• Netflix's Bad Boy Billionaires is an investigative documentary series focusing on the corruption surrounding a number of infamous Indian tycoons

  • The show was originally suspended following a law suit by the protagonists of the series; Netflix has however won the legal battle 

  • Psychotherapist Ajay Khandelwal offers a psychological review

The new Netflix series starts off featuring the “King of Good Times”, Vijay Mallya. He is an Indian entrepreneur who has lived a lavish playboy lifestyle. Lionel Ritchie sang at his fiftieth birthday, and Enrique Iglesias sang at his sixtieth. He has been married three times, once to childhood friend, Rekha, and twice to air hostesses, Pinky and Seema. 

He is a rather Trump-like figure, financing his empire through a series of huge loans, and constantly taking larger and larger risks. His was well-known as a liquor baron, and was famous for his pubs in Bangalore, now the IT hub of India. He revelled in evading the puritanical and abstemious culture of his time. For instance, despite the ban on alcohol advertising on television, he found an ingenious way to advertise Kingfisher (India's most recognised and widely available beer) mineral water on prime time TV. 

Like the Greek God Hermes, his mind was active in finding ways to circumvent existing traditions and conventions, finding loopholes, dancing around the authorities. Hermes was famed for his theft of fifty of Apollo’s cattle. He made soft shoes for them, so he could lead them away, without being noticed.

“A son, of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods” (Homeric Hymn 4, trans. Evelyn-White)

His ingenuity knew no bounds, and he was much admired: “Hermes wants for nothing for through hard work, cleverness, the weaving of fine tales and simple treachery or theft he can get whatever it is he wants and even managed to sneak his way into the bed of the lovely Aphrodite whose soft, warm flesh delighted him so. Hail Hermes, is there anything you cannot accomplish? If so I am ignorant of it.”

The same applied to Mr Mallya. He was able to convince extremely risk averse and bureaucratic state banks to lend him hundreds of millions to fund his ailing enterprises. He was able to seduce them through his own narrative, just like Hermes. Investigations suggest the loans applications were not corroborated, but simply based on Mr Mallya’s own wishful projections.

Emboldened, this modern day Puer Aeternus, a real-life Peter Pan, moved from liquor to airplanes. Both are open to symbolic interpretation. The beer bottle and the plane are both phallic objects, hinting at Mallya’s desire to demonstrate his potency. Just like Trump, he was overshadowed by a successful father, and wanted to find a way to outshine him.

Alcohol in Latin, as Jung noted, is 'spiritus', and it’s possible Mr Mallya was seeking a literal way to connect with spirit and get high. He found a material and concrete expression of this desire through his manufacture of spirit, and through his public gestures, such as buying gold doors for temples. He wanted to get “high”, and he wanted to be the “golden boy”, with the Midas touch.

What better way of expressing this desire than flying. Mr Mallya started off with the intention of running a low-cost budget airline. Within days he had a bought a fleet of top of the range Airbus planes, and was serving lobster in First Class seats. The business had gotten “high.” The accounting figures were “inflated.”

Jung argued that we all have complexes that can be activated, which are clusters of unconscious energy, that shape our behaviour, often in ways that we are unaware of. Sometimes, the complex can have us! In this case, Mr Mallya, seems to have become fully identified with his complex. He held a lavish birthday party on his sixtieth birthday party, though he had blatantly failed to pay the wages of this Indian staff.

Mr Mallya is now on the descent. If one doesn’t make conscious the difficulties the complex brings us, it knocks us sideways. In this case Mr Mallya is embroiled in various legal cases. There are formidable forces arrayed against him. Earlier in his life he survived a potentially fatal helicopter crash. This time, however, just like his rusting Kingfisher planes, it looks like he will be grounded for good. Nevertheless, Mr Mallya, even though his passport has been revoked, could still “take flight.” He faces, like all of us, the unenviable challenge: do we take flight (in the first-class Airbus of the mind), or do we disembark, and keep our feet on the ground, to face the reality of life on planet earth?

Ajay Khandelwal is a verified welldoing.org psychotherapist in London and online 

Further reading

Trauma and relationships in BBC's I May Destroy You

What Normal People tells us about low self-worth and relationships

Netflix's Russian Doll: why do we repeat the same mistakes?

The psychological meaning of the Tour de France