Bad Boy Billionaires: India is a three-part documentary series on Netflix charting the lives of three noted industrialists turned financial villains – liquor baron Vijay Mallya, diamantaire Nirav Modi and the Sahara group patriarch Subrata Roy. The series was originally also supposed to include an episode on IT giant Ramalinga Raju, but a legal entanglement prevented Netflix from releasing the segment.
Their ambitions were their undoing
If you’re even a moderately informed citizen of India, it’s likely that you’ve heard the names Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Subrata Roy a fair bit in recent years. These were men who once formed the creme de la creme of Indian society until their realities were unearthed, three icons in their respective fields who turned rogues overnight. Bad Boy Billionaires: India charts their steep rise and even steeper fall from grace. The three episodes are aptly titled. Vijay Mallya’s is called The King of Good Times, Nirav Modi’s is called Diamonds aren’t Forever, and the one on Subrata Roy is titled The World’s Largest Family, a reference to the Sahara Parivar.
Understandably, the series doesn’t delve too deep into the nitty gritties of the financial scams (or in Mallya’s case, default) that these men pulled off. The targeted audience, after all, doesn’t just comprise financial pundits. Instead, a decent effort is made to get into the minds of these individuals, and what drove them to their respective paths. For instance, we get a window into what fuels Vijay Mallya’s larger than life persona and where Subrata Roy’s enormous saviour complex stems from. Nirav Modi paints a more understated character compared to the other two, but has the same ambition. That is essentially the common factor between all three stories. The men tasted success and then didn’t know when to stop.
The poor always bear the brunt
Petty criminals pick pockets and snatch jewellery. More seasoned criminals break into wealthy households or shops. But the biggest heists are pulled off by suit-clad men sitting in drawing rooms, by bending the system. This is the point that Bad Boy Billionaires attempts to nail home. Mallya, Modi and Roy evaporated astronomical sums from the system, money that belonged to the common man. Mallya and Modi borrowed from banks, which paints a rather fragile picture of our banking system, specifically nationalised banks. These financial calamities could have been prevented had our banks been more vigilant. The episode on Subrata Roy is clearly the most outrageous and hard-hitting, for his misdeeds have had the most far-reaching effects socially. The money pilfered by Roy’s Sahara Group belonged to the poorest, most marginalised sections of the Indian society. Even more appalling are Roy’s outrageous attempts to hoodwink the judicial system until the very end.
All three episodes give us harrowing tales of victims. Roy’s episode shows us victims from rural and backward areas of the country. There’s a segment on the wife of a Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) employee who committed suicide because her husband hadn’t been paid his salary for six months. Then there’s the low level bank clerk from Punjab National Bank (PNB) who has been implicated in Nirav Modi’s scam. He claims he had no idea of the wrongdoings that were occurring, and that he was only doing what his superiors had instructed him to do. Of course there is no conclusive evidence of his innocence, but it is believable that a lowly clerk wasn’t aware of the elaborate scheme and was coerced by his seniors into doing their bidding.
Is Mallya really a lesser evil?
Nirav Modi and Subrata Roy’s stories present clear cut cases of fraudulent activity. Vijay Mallya’s, though, is different. Mallya secured loans from banks in good faith to expand his airlines business, and was unable to repay them when his company went bust. Many believe he has committed no crime.
Sid Mallya stars in the episode on Mallya and vehemently defends his father, calling him a political pawn. Other industrialists have defaulted on larger sums of money, he claims, but none had to undergo the kind of smear campaign that Mallya did. He further adds that Mallya was a soft target because he was in the liquor business, something traditionally frowned upon in the Indian society. Interestingly, Sid never denies that his father absconded from his commitments.
Mallya may not have pulled a scam, but he was accused of money laundering and other unethical practices like window dressing his company’s financials and projections to secure huge loans. However what really hits hard is the apathy he displayed towards his employees and other stakeholders when they were in need. It appears as though he never intended to pay them their dues. A considerable amount of coverage is given to his lavish 60th birthday bash that was celebrated right in the middle of the KFA crisis, in which pop star Enrique Iglesias performed. Even Sid Mallya agrees that they could have done without the party, saying that it gave them bad optics. Columnist Shobhaa De, a close friend of Vijay’s, chose to call his behaviour “callous”.
WATCH OR NOT
Bad Boy Billionaires: India is not the most detailed account of the financial crimes committed by these men. In fact it is largely a retelling of things that we more or less know already. But the docuseries does pack a compelling narrative that is likely to spark outrage among viewers especially the Subrata Roy episode.
Director: Dylan Mohan Gray (The King of Good Times), Johanna Hamilton (Diamonds aren’t Forever), Nick Read (The World’s Largest Family)
Cast: Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Subrata Roy
Streaming on: Netflix