Kerala is ruled by the Left Democratic Front, and some of the widespread Communist sentiment has coloured commercial film productions in shiny hues of red.
The Nivin Pauly starrer Sakhavu (Comrade) is the latest Malayalam movie to celebrate Communism and spread the ideology through populist means. Sidhartha Siva’s movie, which has been running to packed houses across the state, sees the Malayalam star Nivin Pauly in the double role of Krishnankumar, a student activist, and Communist leader Krishnan, who unites tea plantation workers facing exploitation. Krishnakumar learns the qualities of a true Communist by observing the life of Comrade Krishnan.
The first movie to rally to the cause was the March 3 release Oru Mexican Aparatha (A Mexican Infinity), which portrayed the intense political rivalry between a left student outfit and a Congress-led student political organisation. The film, starring Tovino Thomas, was a box office hit.
Director Tom Emmatty said that he didn’t think about the market potential when he decided to make Oru Mexican Aparatha. “I wanted people to come to the theatres, and opting for a movie with Communist themes was a ploy to attract more viewers,” Emmatty said. “I made the movie with good intentions, but I received many brickbats. Many alleged that I was trying to malign Communist parties and their student wings.”
Detractors of the red mania will soon have another cause to agitate against: Comrade in America, directed by Amal Neerad and starring young star Dulquer Salman, is scheduled for a May release. The movie, also known as CIA, has been shot at locations in the United States of America and Mexico. The posters show Salman in the backdrop of a modified American flag, in which the stars have been replaced by the Communist sickle and hammer.
However, the movie’s director, Amal Neerad, said CIA should not be lumped with its predecessors. “I had planned to release the movie in 2016 but it was delayed as I couldn’t complete the shoot on time,” Neerad said. “CIA should not be considered as run-of-the-mill stuff.”
Romanticism for the Communist cause dates back to the early 1970s. Legendary filmmaker Thoppil Bhasi directed Ningalenne Communistakki in 1970 and Anubhavangal Paalichakal in 1971. In the ’80s and ’90s, several films examined the ideology that has endured in Kerala for decades, including Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mukhamukham, Lenin Rajendran’s Meenamasathile Sooryan, IV Sasi’s Adimakal Udamakal,Venu Nagavally’s Lal Salam and TV Chandran’s Ormakalundayirikkanam.
“Filmgoers in Kerala have always had high regard for ideal Communists,” pointed out film critic NP Sajeesh. “So all the films went on to become huge hits.”
Many of the left-leaning films made in previous decades subtly tried to malign the trade union movement that had been gaining momentum in the state, Sajeesh added. “Most of the films created the binaries of good Communists and bad Communists, and tried to exhort people that trade unions were a bane.” The newer batch of films harks back to an idealised notion of Communist politics even though it is widely believed that the state’s leadership is veering towards the Right, Sajeesh pointed out.
Rather than ideology, it’s the colour of money that seems to be encouraging filmmakers towards Communist-themed movies. “I am sure that the success of two recent movies will inspire more directors to try out similar stories,” Sajeesh said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.