Delayed by legal challenges from two of its four subjects, Bad Boy Billionaires: India is finally out on Netflix. The investigative docuseries follows business tycoons mired in allegations of fraud and corruption. While the episode on former Satyam Computer Services head Ramalinga Raju has thus far been withheld, we meet liquor baron Vijay Mallya, diamantaire Nirav Modi and chit fund operator Subrata Roy.
Both Modi and Mallya are in the United Kingdom, fending off extradition bids by the Indian government.
The King of Good Times, directed by Dylan Mohan Gray, explores Mallya’s rise and fall through archival news footage and interviews with family members and acquaintances, including his son Sid Mallya, his executive assistant Tushita Patel and his friend Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. The 60-minute episode summarises the trajectory of Mallya’s good times and bad times, from inheriting his father’s empire to diversifying into racing, airlines and cricket.
The Johanna Hamilton-directed Diamonds Aren’t Forever, about Nirav Modi, and Nick Read’s The World’s Biggest Family, about Subrata Roy, similarly offer few new insights or revelations.
The series depends largely on journalists and commentators. Information that is already in the public domain is packaged as a catalogue of the enigma around the businessmen, their backroom dealings and financial fraud, and their dramatic decline.
Arrogance and a disregard for public sentiment went hand-in-hand with institutional malpractices. Mallya’s vulgar 60th birthday celebrations took place even as his Kingfisher Airlines was sinking and his employees were staging protests for overdue salary payments. Modi was spotted strolling around London in a now infamous ostrich-skin jacket. Roy had private yoga classes while in jail.
The episode on Nirav Modi is the weakest. The commentators’ perspectives are ordinary and the footage is limited to shop openings and product shoots. There is a passing mention of his uncle Mehul Choksi’s influence and Modi’s partnership with his wife that established him as the diamantaire du jour.
Nick Read captures a flavour of the sycophancy surrounding Subrata Roy and the cult he crafted around his business, including a distinctive style of greeting, a dress code and an attractive chit fund scheme. So compelling was his idea that at its peak, one in 17 Indians were depositors in the Sahara pyramid scheme. Through talking heads that include former employees and economically backward investors, Read balances Roy’s hubris with the dismay of the small depositor.
The series gains currency if you consider the systemic and sustained corruption and mismanagement that have resulted in frauds running into thousands of crores. But we already knew this. Producers Reva Sharma and Francis Longhurst’s series merely scratches the surface. The narrative sidesteps irony or satire. As legal proceedings are still ongoing, the episodes remain cautiously non-committal.