Engaging look at outsized egos and greed

Netflix has partially released its much-awaited series on four Indian tycoons facing fraud allegations after a court in Bihar lifted an injunction.

The Bad Boy Billionaires: India documentary series about liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya, Subrata Roy of the Sahara group, IT executive Ramalinga Raju and jeweller Nirav Modi was set for release last month.

Netflix, the world's largest streaming service, suspended the show's release after an order from the Araria district court in Bihar where the Sahara group argued it would damage Roy's reputation.

On Oct 3, the court lifted the injunction and the series began to feature on Netflix from Oct 5, with the exception of the episode on Raju which has been withheld as a case is still in progress.

On the surface, the hour-long episodes of the series do little more than stitch together news reports. It also features people who are close to or have closely followed the three "bad boys": Mallya, Modi and Roy.

There is little independent investigation or pursuit of truth. The docu-series cleverly recaps the Kingfisher, Nirav Modi and Sahara scams which were extensively covered in India.

However, the stories have been captivatingly told.

The Mallya episode, aptly titled The King of Good Times, traces the beer baron's origins.

It comprehensively captures his childhood and how he turned into a flamboyant tycoon.

The episode narrates how Mallya was keen on breaking taboos surrounding the alcohol business, how he probably took it a step too far by starting an airline and how one shopping spree at Airbus would bring about his downfall, reported The New Indian Express.

What stands out is that the episode shows a side of Mallya not many may have seen - a quietly confident man who idolised United States President Donald Trump and loved the spotlight.

It also features interviews with India's richest self-made woman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, social commentator Shobha De and former Kingfisher Airlines CEO Alex Wilcox, among others, who throw light on Mallya's miscalculations.

Mr Wilcox, in particular, provides some great personal insight on Mallya shopping for aircraft after aircraft against his advice, which eventually led to Mallya's debt trap.

The Roy story is as engaging. The narrative recalls how he ran Sahara like his own personal cult, after building it on the meagre savings of poverty-stricken millions who believed they were investing in a chit fund.

Featuring interviews with journalists like Sharat Pradhan, known for his exhaustive reporting on the Sahara scam, the episode details Roy's run-ins with stock market regulators in India and his decision to take two Sahara companies public which opened his business to public scrutiny and eventually led to his downfall.

It's the same case with the Modi episode. Diamonds Aren't Forever is an account of human suffering at the heart of a billionaire's fraud.

Even as the episode ably narrates the suspiciously-rapid rise of Modi and his questionable borrowings from the Punjab National Bank, it shows how low-level bank clerks and managers were made the fall guys for the establishment's failure to follow due process in issuing letters of undertaking to Modi.

The episode also has an interview with the Daily Telegraph's Mick Brown, who is credited with successfully pinning the fugitive billionaire's location in London, before confronting him, reported ThePrint.

While Diamonds Aren't Forever is admittedly the least-interesting of the three episodes, the fact that it still manages to keep you glued to the screen says an awful lot about the content and quality of Bad Boy Billionaires: India.

While Netflix is a game changer on several fronts, its bank of docudramas is its biggest value addition.

It taps into this reservoir of real-life stories and turn them into gripping narratives enhanced by great production value.

Bad Boy Billionaires may not be a revelation, but it's definitely engrossing.

The series cements the bits people are aware of into a cohesive narrative.

The perspectives give a lot of insight into the people Mallya, Modi and Roy were.

They had a lot in common: Visionaries with copious doses of flamboyance, greed and megalomania.

Indo-Asian News Service, Reuters


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