Thursday, December 1 2022
The much talked about film, Shakun Batra’s Gehraiyaan, has a central character who is a “real estate investor”. Much of the plot revolves around him trying to close a “rating gap”. In an otherwise fairly competent film, this character may or may not build a real estate project in Alibaug, aided (or not) by money from his future father-in-law, while being funded (or unfunded) by a tainted partner who has been raided by the Enforcement Department, which forces him to “clean the books”.

The film also involves a front company, which was a yoga studio, and the mortgage of a freestanding house in an effort to do or not do something. All this while visiting Los Angeles. If you’re confused and clueless and haven’t seen the movie, welcome to my final week. I saw him twice. And I’m about to sign up for an online property law course just to figure out what’s going on.

By the way, there’s a character played by Rajat Kapoor, who often plays many investor/banker/boss roles, saying random things like, “Client’s call is in 30 seconds.” We better be prepared or the investor will walk with the client. Words that sound business and finance, but mean nothing.

It made me think about business representation in Bollywood. Of course, nowadays we have reasonably accurate depictions of the stock market as we saw in Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story. And it’s better when it avoids a fancy business misconception – English speakers in Zegna suits say nonsense things like “foreign investors ko bulao”.

It’s the kind of thing that leads to Hritik Roshan’s character in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara saying he was “an investment trader” (whatever that is), having to video call clients Japanese on a laptop computer placed in the trunk of a rented car for a holiday with friends in Spain. I much prefer old Hindi cinema which did whatever it wanted to show high finance. In the big Disco Dancer, villainous Om Shiv Puri holds a board meeting with a board that reads: “Profits From Smuggling.” And smokes a pipe and smiles when the accountant says, “We didn’t pay any taxes,” and the board applauds.

There was also the usual scene between the rich girl’s grumpy bad dad and the poor hero of any 80s movie, where the dad was willing to bribe the hero to leave his daughter. The scene usually involved the father throwing a checkbook at the hero and saying, “Yeh lo blank check!” To which the hero would reply that he was not for sale.

I was still baffled by the scene because, say the hero agreed to take the money and leave, the check was never signed, which I imagined would lead to a bureaucratic nightmare in n any public sector bank that ruled Indian finance in the 1980s. Not to mention, it shook my belief in the business savvy of an evil grumpy dad if he throws in blank checks with no signature limit.

Finance has gotten so complicated these days that apart from iPhones and people looking at Excel sheets and WhatsApp, filmmakers don’t know what to show, leading Rajat Kapoor to say things like “We need ‘leverage now’. The very rich like Elon Musk don’t even wear suits anymore. And no one even understands where Musk is coming from or going to. It used to be that if a movie was to show illegal payment among bigwigs, two imported cars would stop on Madh Island in Mumbai. Some men were coming out and one group was throwing a VIP briefcase at another.

The other would open it and the bad guys would say, “Count it.” Fifty thousand, as agreed. Of course, inflation made the line laughable. But we still understand the transaction. Cash from person to person wealth transfer. This would avoid the complexity of Gehraiyaan where a character says, “He rented this yacht. You know, to impress clients, who might invest in his capital.


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