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Scam 2003: The Telgi Story

STORY: This true story of scamster Abdul Karim Telgi is adapted from a book ‘Telgi Scam: Reporter ki Diary’, written by journalist Sanjay Singh. It chronicles the dramatic rise and arrest of Telgi in the 30,000 crore stamp paper scam that shook the nation.

REVIEW: 
From selling fruits on a passenger train to becoming one of India’s most notorious scamsters, Abdul Karim Telgi (Gagan Dev Riar) led a truly fascinating life. Unlike most scamsters, Telgi wasn’t a flashy and pompous prick. Not even after he became the kingpin of a multi-crore scam. In fact, he looked so simple and regular that no one would expect him to pull off such a massive con. Showrunner Hansal Mehta, who gave us the hugely successful ‘Scam 1992: The Hansal Mehta Story’, knows that the casting of his key characters is crucial. Just like Pratik Gandhi in ‘Scam 1992’, who became an overnight star after playing big bull Harshad Mehta, Gagan Dev Riar seems quite poised to make it big after this show. That’s because not only does he look uncannily similar to the real Telgi, but also gets each and every nuance of his character spot on, including the Hyderabadi lingo. Full marks to director Tushar Hiranandani for extracting a superlative performance from Riar and to casting director Mukesh Chhabra for spotting his talent.

Telgi’s story begins with his infamous narco-analysis test and runs into a flashback, as he reveals his journey from a small town hustler in Khanapur in Karnataka to the city of dreams Mumbai. The show meticulously uncovers the key events in Telgi’s life while slowly unraveling the mystery behind the stamp paper scam. Hiranandani and his writers (Kedar Patankar and Kiran Yagnopavit) let the plot simmer by adding enough tension and ups and downs before Telgi hits the jackpot with his crime. In the first two episodes on which this review is based, we see only some glimpses of Telgi’s personal life that we hope is explored more extensively in the latter episodes. Also, many times, the scams seem way too convenient and oversimplified, especially the way Telgi goes around greasing the palms of babus, netas and crooks alike. As Telgi starts becoming too big for his boots, he does face setbacks like constant jail time and a major health scare, but his audacity to be on the wrong side of the law keeps getting him in more trouble. The series, while becoming a complex mix of too many characters, also underscores the fact that crime never pays.

The makers deftly recreate the Mumbai of the 1990s when life was simpler without mobile phones and social media. The timeline itself lends the show a unique charm and nostalgia. Compared to ‘Scam 1992’ however, the storytelling feels a bit uneven because the way Telgi’s character switches from being content to dangerously ambitious, is a bit abrupt. He starts sabotaging his friendship with Kaushal Jhaveri (Hemang Vyas), a small-time con artist from Gujarat, who holds his hand when he is down in the dumps. Hemang Vyas is brilliant in his performance, as the foul-mouthed Gujarati vendor, who teaches Telgi to dream big. Achint Thakkar’s pulsating beats from the Scam that are used quite effectively here by music composer Ishaan Chhabra.

The source material for this show has been in the news for decades. However, despite its scale, we have never seen a dedicated show or a film on the stamp paper scam. Just like the previous Scam series, Hansal Mehta leaves his unique stamp on this one as well, taking his scam legacy forward.

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