on the actor's trail

Benedict Cumberbatch might not look the part, but he is perfect for ‘Doctor Strange’

His appeal combines old world charm with ruthless intelligence, which works perfectly for the Marvel Cinematic Universe character.

As winter draws in and the evenings lengthen, magic comes to New York City. JK Rowling’s Newt Scamander will be chasing down his unleashed beasts in the first instalment of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Dr Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystical Arts, joins the ever-growing team of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s superhero pack in the November 4 release Doctor Strange.

Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Strange is a bit of an oddity in the current line-up of MCU heroes. Unlike Captain America, the quintessential American hero with his blond locks, dreamy blue eyes, and helicopter-pushing muscles, Strange is not a soldier, at least not in the conventional sense. He is no millionaire playboy, like Tony Stark, quick with a quip, disguising heroism with a sense of nonchalance. As Karl Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) says in one of the several Doctor Strange trailers that have graced the internet: “The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard against more mystical threats.” Strange is the Marvel Universe’s master of these mystic arts, and the film showcases his rise to that position, the threats he will have to face down in order to (you guessed it) save the world from Mads Mikkelsen’s renegade Kaecilius.

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‘Doctor Strange’.

Strange is not the blond-haired, husky do-gooder that Hollywood has conventionally patronised as a sex symbol. That’s more Captain America’s shtick. Then again, Cumberbatch is not your typical Hollywood sex bomb either. Pale of skin, with a long face and a curiously cold countenance, the actor has managed to win legions of fans despite his choice of curiously sexless roles. Cumberbatch sprang into international prominence playing the slightly sociopathic, awkward Sherlock of BBC’s Sherlock, a man whose ability to reason and deduce a sequence of events is so advanced that people literally stumble after him, unable to comprehend his trips through his “mind palace”.

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‘Sherlock’.

After this, Cumberbatch played Alan Turing, the tragic mathematician, in The Imitation Game (2014), a role for which he earned his first Oscar nomination. Cumberbatch is no stranger to the geek community either. Besides Sherlock, he has voiced Smaug, the smouldering dragon of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, and the villainous Khan of the new Star Trek films.

At first, Cumberbatch was thought to appeal to a certain segment of the female population – the geek girls who valued thought over matter and prided themselves on a certain intellectual superiority. Not for them the Brad Pitt of yesteryears or the bevy of Hollywood Chrises (Hemsworth, Pine, Pratt, Evans). The “Cumberbitches”, as Cumberbatch’s female fans call themselves, can listen to their chosen heartthrob recite Shakespeare or watch him smoulder in thought and take equal pleasure in both.

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Benedict Cumberbatch reciting John Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.

Cumberbatch’s appeal combines a certain old world charm with ruthless intelligence, the two sides of his persona we see filtered through his YouTube recordings and his choice of films. He has also proven time and again that he is open to just having fun, engaging in dance-offs with fellow British intellectual hot man, Tom Hiddleston. The appeal of both Cumberbatch and Hiddleston, in contrast to that of their compatriot, Tom Hardy, lies in the channelling of what seems almost stereotypically British qualities – the pale skin, the quiet and polite voice, the reading of classic poetry and cloaking of skin in tailored suits and propriety – and presenting them in the often larger than life, glitz and glam arena of Hollywood. They present a contrast to the more relaxed, casual persona of surfer dude Chris Hemsworth or the man’s man appeal of Chris Pratt.

Hiddleston channels his inner bad boy in Loki, Thor’s half brother in the Marvel films. But even here he is less of a grandstanding world-destroyer in the spirit of Magneto than he is a suave, witty demigod, propelled by grief and a desire to prove himself and almost inevitably gaining the sympathy of viewers. Thor 2: The Dark World was livened by Loki’s presence, and many fans criticised Avengers: Age of Ultron for its lack of Hiddleston. Again, Loki is not the conventional choice for a sex symbol, but Hiddleston’s verve and wit – what is presented as his verve and wit, rather – have made him a compelling character in the Marvel franchise.

Cumberbatch’s track record suggests that he will be able to channel his considerable star power and charisma into raising Strange to the same level. On November 4, instead of viewing clips of Captain America pushing away a helicopter, muscles straining with the effort, the world will be drooling over Strange as he waves his fingers and does battle in realities that we mundane people can only dream of. After all, stranger things have happened.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

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In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

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The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

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The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.