Decoding the Success of Hansal Mehta’s ‘Scam 1992’

Suresh Mathew
·8-min read

In the current Indian digital market, which is flooded with numerous OTT platforms and clogged with content of various types, genres and scale, how do you create a clutter-breaker? And what impact does such content, which stands out, have on its streaming platform? The success of Scam 1992 - The Harshad Mehta Story is a good case-study to understand the current dynamics of the Indian OTT space.

Hansal Mehta’s Scam 1992 - The Harshad Mehta Story is easily the one of the best reviewed Indian series this year. The 10-part series, which began streaming on a relatively new platform, Sony LIV, from 9 October 2020, has reportedly boosted the OTT platform’s subscription base besides giving it a place under the sun with the other big players in the market.

Unlike a theatrical release, where ticket sales at the box-office are parameter of its success, we cannot really measure the “success” of a series unless there is transparency regarding the viewership of the show.

The Impact of the Success of Scam 1992 on Sony LIV

Speaking to The Quint, Danish Khan, Business Head - Sony Entertainment Television, Digital Business and StudioNEXT, states that even though the platform is very young, having just started putting out original content since July - it has almost gained a paid subscription base of 2 million and 60 million installations of the app in just four months.

“The aim of having a show like Scam 1992 is to drive three things - to have people download the app, to have people take up premium subscription, and to build the brand as a platform where you can get good content - from all three parameters we have been pretty successful,” says Khan talking about how the series has boosted the platform.

If one wanted to quantify how strong a subscription driver Scam 1992 has been, according to an official statement from the platform - the daily average premium subscriptions on Sony LIV have shot up by 143% since the launch of the series. “There was a spike in subscriptions on the weekend of Scam 1992’s release - we thought the spike would die down during the weekdays but the spike has maintained during weekdays and weekends thereafter. This is the third week since its release, I think we will see a Scam 1992 driven consumption of subscription for a couple of weeks more,” reveals Khan.

The nearly 2 million paid subscription milestone is a significant for a relatively new player like Sony LIV since Netflix India reportedly crossed the 2 million number recently. Data shared by comparitech.com shows Netflix India’s subscribers to be around 2.4 million during Q1 of 2020.

Sameer Nair, who heads Applause Entertainment, the studio that produced Scam 1992 evaluates the impact of a good show on an OTT platform in this manner, “In the old days, there used to be saying in television that “people watch programs, not channels”. I think the same holds true even today. It is individual pieces of content that attract viewers to a service after which they stay to sample the other content. I guess the success of a show helps in making audiences familiar with a platform service, makes them sample the show and the service, buy a subscription, adds to the brand, etc. So yes, a successful show benefits a platform in myriad ways,” he says.

The Challenge of Bringing Scam 1992 to Screen

Talking about choosing to make Scam 1992 and the challenges he faced in bringing it to life on the screen, Sameer says that the story of the Harshad Mehta scam had been on his mind since 2012 but the time wasn’t right then to produce it. However, when he started Applause in 2017, this was one of the first series that they greenlit for development.

"“We wanted to tell a story about not only a colourful albeit notorious larger than life personality, but also of a seminal decade and momentous period of Indian History. This was a time of great change and turbulence, as the old heroes gave way to the new.”" - Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment

He also points out that the biggest challenge they faced was to convert Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu’s incredibly detailed and fact-filled book into an engaging screenplay. “Breathing life into each of the characters you saw in the finished product was a challenge. The other challenges were really connected to creating a world of the late 80s and time-stamping events authentically,” he adds.

The Decision to Cast Pratik Gandhi as Harshad Mehta

Though Sony LIV acquired the show from Applause Entertainment, the decision to not cast a recognisable face for the role of Harshad Mehta seems to have been a unanimous one among all the stake holders. Talking about the choice of Pratik Gandhi for the main role, director Hansal Mehta says, “There were different names that came up before I came up with an option, when I went with this option (Pratik Gandhi), I went with only one option. I have a firm belief that if you believe that one person is the choice, then don’t go with five options. So, I went with Pratik and fortunately Sameer and his team also bought into that vision.”

Nair says they were not fixated with the idea of casting a known face in the show, "When Hansal told us about Pratik, we immediately agreed with the idea and went with it. It was risky at the time but as Pratik says many times in the show, “risk hai toh ishq hai” and I believe that gamble has paid off handsomely. Also, at the time, we hadn’t finalised the streaming platform; that happened later.”

Khan says success on OTT platforms today is all about showrunners, writers and the story, one needs great actors but not necessarily stars. He believes authenticity is key when it comes to casting for a series. “A star can bring a large audience into theatres for a film, but the paid subscriber on any OTT platform are looking for cerebral and authentic content, so you need good actors who can look the part and act the part,” says Khan.

Tech Needs to Meet the Netflix Benchmark

More visibility for Sony LIV has also brought to light the issues that subscribers have with the technology of the platform. Several users have complained about the glitches they have faced while streaming content. From problems like the video stopping abruptly when subtitles are disabled to a faulty fast forward option - users seem to be in no mood to struggle with technical glitches after smoothly browsing through platforms like Netflix and Prime Video.

Nair believes great platform technology, especially user interface, has now become par for the course, but he also believes that ultimately people are going to stay for the content. “Netflix is the gold standard that all platforms strive for. For now, platforms with a better user experience have better engaged and happier, satisfied customers. But all platforms will soon boast of similar features. Of course, content is key because at the end of the day, that’s what people consume – what’s on the screen, not what’s behind it.”

Khan says that he realises the shortcomings of Sony LIV in the tech department and is working on making it better, “Sony LIV as a premium platform is just 4 months old and Netflix is the market leader in terms of technology and user experience and while all other platforms would like to have a similar benchmark, that comes with both investment and experience. We will be investing in technology to make user interface as well as experience smooth.”

"“This is just the beginning of our journey, so we don’t think we will become technological thought leaders overnight, but we will meet the expectations of our subscribers with smoother user interface very soon,”" - Danish Khan, Sony LIV

Shreya Dhanwanthary as Sucheta Dalal in <i>Scam 1992 - The Harshad Mehta Story.</i>
Shreya Dhanwanthary as Sucheta Dalal in Scam 1992 - The Harshad Mehta Story.

What’s Coming Soon

No doubt, Sony LIV will have no time to rest on their laurels in the hugely competitive Indian OTT space to keep up in the game. The team already as a slate of projects that are currently under production and some of the interesting ones amongst them include:

  • Chutzpah: Showrunner: Mrighdeep Lamba, Producer: Dinesh Vijan (Maddock Films)

  • Rocket Boys: Showrunner: Nikkhil Advani, Producer: Siddharth Roy Kapoor (RKF)

  • Maharani: Showrunner: Subhash Kapoor

  • Garmi: Showrunner: Tigmanshu Dhulia

  • Dadi ki Shaadi: Showrunner: Kapil Sharma

  • Sandwich: Director: Rohan Sippy

Also, is Scam season 2 on the cards? Watch this space.

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