Bad Boy Billionaires: India is a 2020 investigative documentary drama, that tries to cover the sensational and controversial lives of three of India’s biggest Industrialists. Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Subrata Roy were the three names who emerged as conquerors post the liberalization of Indian economy. They were not just business tycoons, but had become a phenomenon. Their grandiose spoke for them. They were seen as pioneers of a developing nation. They took India to the world and brought an essence of luxury into the Indian lifestyle.
But as it is aptly said by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu,
“There is no calamity greater than lavish desires and there is no greater disaster than greed.”
Vijay Mallya – The King of Good Times
It was the year 1996 and foreign brands and investments had already started changing the Indian market. Cricket World cup had come to India, and a catchy jingle advertising the packaged “Drinking water” was on every television channel. It was one of the first surrogate advertisements ever made in India. What it was actually advertising was the brand of “Kingfisher” owned by the beer baron, Vijay Mallya.
Mallya was innovative and fearless in his approach. Drinking and partying was always seen as a taboo by conservative Indian society. Vijay Mallya wanted to change that perception. He wanted to bring about a culture where people enjoy their drinks and do not consider it a dubious proposition.
Vijay Mallya inherited the United Breweries Group from his late father, Vittal Mallya. His father very well understood the Indian culture and its orthodox perception. Respect is something that is not given to anyone by default involved in the liquor business. So he abstained from coming in the public eye. He stayed in the shadows and carried out his business in an effective manner. But his sudden demise made his flamboyant, 27 year old son, in-charge of the group.
Vijay Mallya was not inconspicuous as his father. He wanted to create an aspirational lifestyle branding image around Kingfisher. He kept himself at the centerpiece of United brewery’s (UB) brand blitz. He taught the traditionalist Indian society to spend their earnings and have a good time. On his 50th birthday, there were rumors that Oscars and Grammy award winner, Lionel Richie, will be performing at his extravagant Goa mansion. There were speculations on how this cannot happen, no matter how influential or ostentatious Mallya might be. But it did happen. He was nicknamed as the “King of Parties” thereafter.
Kingfisher airlines was founded in 2003 and commenced their operations in 2005. It was a low cost carrier and 50 percent stake was owned by UB group. But soon it changed from being a low cost carrier to something more fancy. There was business class included in the airbus and the luxuries in terms of the food and hospitality were unfathomable. The airlines soon started running into losses.
Vijay Mallya started taking loans from the banks by simply making use of the brand image. He charmed the poorly paid bankers who never looked into the dwindling numbers in the audit sheets. He siphoned funds and laundered it to buy an F1 team in London. An investment research corporation called Veritas, became curious on how the group was creating so much funding. They found discrepancies and published the famous “Veritas report.” Mallya called it a pie in the sky. But it was true the company was running into severe losses and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Something happened during that period that put the public sentiment against him. When his employees were protesting as they were not getting paid, Enrique Iglesias came to India to perform in Mallya’s 60th birthday bash. It outraged the indian socialists.
On 2nd March 2016, Vijay Mallya left India to never come back. An anti corruption campaign was in full swing at that time and the opposition was trying to find a face, who could be termed as the flag-bearer of the same. Mallya became an easy target. India has had a problem of Bad Loans, but Kingfisher accounted for less than 1 percent of that whole amount. The family says that the politicians needed a scapegoat, but it is also a fact that Mallya was in no mood to pay his employees.
Manoviraj Khosla, a fashion designer, who was closely associated to the Kingfisher Group says
“that one airline did him in. If it hadn’t, he would still be the king”
As per the documentary, Bad Boy Billionaires: India – Vijay Mallya sits in London and denies the fact that he was reluctant in paying the debt of 8 billion rupees, and fights against his extradition from the Indian Law agencies.
Nirav Modi – The Firestar Diamond
“We wear Italian clothes, carry French handbags, and buy German cars, then why can’t there be a world class Indian Jewelry brand.”
This was the vision of Diamantaire Nirav Modi. He hailed from the diamond city of Surat. Nirav Modi very conspicuously established himself overnight. He figured out that not much could be made from the mere cutting and polishing of this stone. He wanted to go into the retail sector and the auctions of the big catalogs. That was where the real money was.
In 2010, a news spread through the Indian as well as the international forum like a wildfire. An Indian designed necklace, bearing diamonds of the famous Golconda Mines, had featured in the catalog of the famous art house auctioneers, Christie. Nirav Modi had studied the international market for years and had planned this move with intricate detailing. In the years to come he opened several stores in the various hot-spots of the world i.e London, Manhattan Square and Hong Kong. The brand wanted to fight the might of the Harry Winstons, the Cartiers etc. Nirav Modi had a vision. He broke the traditionalist outlook of how Jewelry was looked in India. He contemporised it. Rosie Huntington Whitely was made the face of the brand. The employees were never asked to save a penny if it increased the quality of the product. The laborers employed in the cutting and finishing industry said that they had never worked in such good and conducive conditions. They were provided with doctors and subsidized meals. Nirav Modi knew that he could only climb the ladder by gaining the trust of the people working with him.
The retail business was not making much profit but still Modi was raising huge sums of money. The funds seem to replenish itself on it’s own. There is a financial instrument to procure foreign investment. It is called “Letter of Undertaking.” You put a collateral and the Indian bank issues a letter of undertaking stating that you can take money from an international branch of a bank. But the catch was that Nirav Modi wasn’t keeping anything as a collateral. So basically he was raising all the money for free.
The operation was being carried out by the bankers of Punjab National Bank in the Brady House, in South Bombay.
Nirav Modi borrowed a whopping sum of 1.8 billion dollars. The day it was revealed that something was not right in the procedure and that it could be the biggest banking fraud in the Indian history, a lot of media correspondents reached in front of Samudra Mahal, where Modi owned an opulent penthouse.
Nirav Modi had left with his family before the F.I.R had been filed to an unknown location. Interpol issued a red notice. But it was an investigative team from the newspaper Telegraph that found the whereabouts of the absconding diamantaire in London’s Soho Square.
As per the Bad Boy Billionaires: India – Nirav Modi is fighting the case of his extradition while being in Wandsworth Prison, and the brand which once competed with the likes of Tiffany and Co. disappeared into oblivion.
Subrata Roy – The Demigod: Saharashri
The Third Person encompassed in Bad boy billionaires: India is Subrata Roy, the chairman of Sahara India Parivar. He knew the Indian mentality and culture very well. He knew the importance of family in the Indian culture. He called his group a “parivar” which in English means family. He united the community under a common emblem, they wore the same uniform, and greeted everyone by saying “Good Sahara” and “Sahara Pranam” by keeping one hand on their chest. Sahara group flourished in various markets and had created a stronghold for itself till the late nineties.
Subrata Roy, the esteemed chairmen of the group had till then acquired a God like stature amidst the community. I would say that credibility was found even in his incredulous means. God couldn’t falter. He can do no wrong. Subrata Roy was considered to be the chief guardian of the commoners. He was the biggest patriot and propagator of Indian values. He claimed to be Robin Hood until the Securities Exchange board of India found otherwise.
It was found out that there were discrepancies in the chit fund schemes of Sahara. The group was not complying to the standards set by SEBI. The people who were buying these chit fund schemes were not duly returned their money and were forced to reinvest it in the company.
When the regulator asked for proper documents, Saharashri in his own pomposity and ego sent five trucks full of documents to SEBI headquarters in Mumbai overnight. The personal details and financial documents of the investors were kept in different boxes. It seemed like it was done on purpose to make the work the regulator difficult. SEBI investigated a sample of investors to find that most of them didn’t exist. It was speculated that it wasn’t just a case of defaulting payments but could be a case of money laundering and corruption against Subrata Roy.
The apex court charged Subrata Roy with contempt, for not attending the court proceedings. After two years of imprisonment for the default in payment, he came out on a parole in 2016. He has been out ever since. Most of his employees working in the media and marketing sector were not given any payment since early 2012 and were made to work on goodwill. They were made to believe that God shall shower his blessings once he is free from all the false charges.
As per the documentary Bad Boy Billionaires: India – The investors who were mostly the daily wagers have not received the promised payments till now while the Demigod, Subrata Roy sits in his mansion in the Hindi Heartland of Lucknow.
An Unjust Reality
It is always the poor who bears the burden, irrespective of who committed the fraud. It is that daily wager, those rickshaw pullers, those sewage cleaners who constitute the majority, who are always subjected to excruciating and inhuman circumstances.
I am talking about an individual here who cheaply inebriates himself so that his senses cannot perceive the filth of the sewage, or doesn’t feel any physical pain while doing extensive labour. A common man who invests his hard earned money just so that one day he get enough returns, to marry his daughter, or buy a house.
I agree that people of such high stature, like these billionaires, must have earned the good will of a lot of individuals too. They must have done something right and a lot of people would have benefited from their businesses. They did create extensive job opportunities and were true visionaries. There is no doubt about it. But in the mad race of climbing the ladder you crush those who gave a little bit of themselves so that you could create the foundation of your empire.
These billionaires, these enterprising individuals portrayed in Bad Boy Billionaires: India, could have been the role models of a new India, of a contemporary India and would have made for the perfect underdog narrative.
But they fell into this dark abyss wrapped in avarice. Material gains preceded rectitude, arrogance preceded humility and you are left to ponder upon the question “Is there any end to the material desires of a human being, can it ever be satiated?”
Bad Boy Billionaires: India is streaming on Netflix.
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