Monday, April 15, 2024

Review: Scam 2003 : The Telgi Story: a slow-burn study of a psychic scammer

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Tanisha Saxena

You know the scammer’s life is a fabulous fodder in the film industry. The life of the scammer gives a crisp script, just like a perfectly done omelette. And Hansal Mehta is probably the Michelin Starred Chef of the genre. After the massive success of Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, he is back with the second part of his scam franchise.

Scam 2003 – The Telgi Story is adapted from the Hindi book ‘Reporter ki Diary’, authored by journalist Sanjay Singh. The show narrates the true tale of Abdul Karim Telgi who was involved in a stamp paper scam worth Rs. 20,000 crores. A rags-to-riches story has a lot of potential in cinema, but unfortunately here in this show the template doesn’t work. The fault lies in the storyline, as it fails to fully convince us. Telgi, who sells fruits in the train, says to a man, “B com ki degree leke 40 degree mai fal bech raha hu.” The man named Shaukat who was based in Bombay gives Telgi his address and a ray of hope.

Telgi was born in Khanapur, Karnataka and his father worked in the railways, whom he lost at a very young age. After his father’s demise, the entire responsibility of the household came on his shoulders. He used to sell fruits and vegetables in train to support his family and simultaneously completed his studies. The first episode sheds light on his dark life. In one scene, as he sits on the floor to eat food, suddenly, the house starts shaking as a train passes through the nearby track. He is served leftover food that has come from a neighborhood. Telgi with his downcast eyes is too busy musing about his social circumstances. His tooti hui chappal is used as a symbol at various points in the beginning to reflect the plight of his life. However, we can’t say that this makes him bitter about life. In fact, he has dreams of making his own house. The show traces his journey to becoming the mastermind behind one of India’s most ingenious scams that spanned 18 states. But in all this, the series fails to explore the dynamics of the character. A scammer is indeed a nuanced person, but the series is too busy narrating the intricacies of stamp paper usage. The events are over-explained and therefore feel hazy. The dialogues are laced with weird humor which kind of over-explains the complex mechanism of stamp papers. “Agar desh ki arthvyavastha kuber ka khazana hai, toh stamp paper uski chaabi,” says Telgi. At another point he says, “Jaise aap kayde ki bhasha samjhte ho, waise main fayede ki.” These dialogues are written to make the story more sensible, perhaps. But as opposed to it, these dialogues don’t make much sense.

Gagan Dev Riar who essays the role of Abdul Karim Telgi delivers a decent performance in the show. He tries his best to make his character believable. But everything is narrated from Telgi’s point of view, and that’s why things are too easy to get done. He is successful at everything – from speaking good English to bribing the corrupt officials. It feels that even in a government office, a silly virus called ‘I Love You’ has the power to bend everything in favor of a scammer. Even in moments where Telgi is vulnerable, his unapologetic demeanor cements it all. Over the course of five episodes of about an hour, we see Telgi crossing all the hurdles and step by step making it big. At first, he is involved in making fake passports and sending labor to Gulf shores. Further, he teams up with Kaushal (Played by Hemang Vyas) and later on leads the pack of hungry Hyenas.

We also get a glimpse of his personal life, which is pretty much affected by his actions. He is a family man, but his greed doesn’t let him sleep. He doesn’t want to earn money. He wants to make money. The story is largely set in Bombay and Nashik in the 1990s. Notably, there’s no graph of other characters around him, and that helps Telgi’s character carving out a fascinating arc. Take for instance his wife, Nafeesa (Played by Sana Amin Shaikh) who has not even two powerful lines in the series. In fact, women are voiceless here.

Serious questions like money and morality should have been asked in the series. The story is set in the 1990s Bombay, but the cinematography fails to capture the regalia. The background music is okay, but again impact is too less. There are just too many loopholes in the series and leaves us less smitten.

Note: The review is based on the first five episodes streaming on Sony LIV.

Director : Tushar Hiranandani
Helmed by : Hansal Mehta
Producer: Sameer Nair, Deepak Segal, Indranil Chakraborty
Writers: Karan Vyas and Kiran Yadnyopavit
Production: Applause Entertainment Ltd., Studio Next
Cast: Gagan Dev Riar, Mukesh Tiwari, Sana Amin Sheikh, Bharat Jadhav, Shaad Randhawa
Streaming on: Sonyliv
Rating: 2/5

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