Dalal Street is not Wall Street, but this movie clearly wishes it was. The wolf of the Indian Stock Exchange, in this fictional account of how good and bad greed is, plays it cool. Shakun Kothari (Saif Ali Khan) is the classic rule breaker of financial trading and uses inside information to play Russian roulette, and usually wins. This turns him into a role model, a mentor, and an occasional guide to a whole host of young traders in Mumbai and beyond; to those who read about him, follow his outrageous bids like movie fanboys and fangirls, and worship the very ground he walks on.
Kothari's uncanny ability to turn dirt into gold has infected a middle class Muslim boy in Allahabad and caused him to revolt against conformity. Rizwan Ahmed (Rohan Mehra) is a new age small towner, not concerned about morality as a part of the set of values his father cherishes. For Dad, money is earned with hard work. For Rizwan, the geometric multiplication of money is an art form, an end in itself. His watches his idol in the Mumbai Stock Market do it effortlessly. All Rizwan needs is an air ticket to the city, and a bit of luck to get a foot stuck in the revolving door.
There is similarity designed in ‘Baazaar' between the story of a small towner wanting to make it big in Bollywood, and the narrative of Rizwan as he arrives with aspiration to succeed on Mumbai’s Wall Street. The language and scenarios are identical, except for the location of Dalal Street in South Mumbai, and the film industry in the suburbs of the North. Rizwan rents a shoddy place, under the shadow of a posh multi-storeyed complex, and informs his estate agent that in a short while he will be shifting to the penthouse in the sky above. Sure enough, he takes the fast elevator to the top floor, and within six months is a successful trader with hundreds of crores in his bank account. He keeps repeating, ad nauseam, that his intention is not to be a ‘struggler' in Mumbai, but a ‘settler'.
‘Baazaar' is a simplistic movie, written like a fairy tale. It expects us to believe that a shrewd Gujarati hustler like Kothari, who has been manipulating the market and dodging SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India), for as long as he can remember, is going to take on a novice like Rizwan and hand him a cheque of a hundred crores, for just giving him one lucky tip.
Following the money trail, other rewards like sex arrive magically, but they are tied in too closely to one actress. Priya Rai (Radhika Apte), an astute trader herself, sleeps with Rizwan, after nick naming him ‘charity’ (for the empathy he triggers in the King). Dressed in what looks like a single mini-skirt right through, Apte has appeared in too many movies to make any more sense to us of the character she happens to be playing. She could be a ghost buster, a double agent, a Pune girl, an unlucky victim or a nasty perpetrator; you no longer care. Suffice it to say that her character in ‘Baazaar' is not what it seems at first.
Saif Ali Khan plays the ‘Gekko’ of Dalal Street very confidently. As a man entirely without a conscience, he is hard, calm and measured in his dealings. The only time he is passionate is when he is called a ‘fraud’ in front of his wife and daughters. In fact, if at all ‘Baazaar’ is worth seeing, it could be for the occasional glimpse of Kothari’s outrageously beautiful wife, Mandira (Chitrangada Singh). It is only in her presence that the man becomes human. She stays in the background, but clearly rules her husband’s heart and judgement.
So like the stock market, this movie fluctuates. It is not bullish. And it endorses professional amorality in its finale.