'Scam': A testament to the power of compelling storytelling
  • Release Date: 01/09/2023
  • Platform: Sony Liv
  • Cast: Gagan Dev Riar,  Dinesh Lal Yadav, Mukesh Tiwari, Sana Amin Sheikh, Nandu Madhav
  • Director: Tushar Hiranandani 

Abdul Karim Telgi rose from selling fruits on a train to planning, perpetuating, and finally succumbing to arguably the biggest financial scam in the history of the country. The “Telgi” scam, as it would be known in the future, pointed out numerous gaping holes in the financial system that allowed for such a large-scale financial anomaly to unfold successfully. It also underlined the corrupt nature of the ministers, law enforcement, and administration involved in the scam, without whose help Telgi would never have been able to pull off the unbelievably large scam that he ultimately did. ‘Scam 2003 – The Telgi Story‘ attempts to address all these aspects of the story behind the scam and takes a deep dive into the who, how, and why of the entire time frame. The show begins with Telgi’s humble beginnings and culminates in his unceremonious death in the prison.

The series is based on the book ‘Telgi : Ek Reporter ki Diary’ by Sanjay Singh. The most ingenious decision that director Tushar Hiranandani made about how to approach the story and the characters was to show the character of Telgi on the receiving end of challenges, threats, and prison time for at least 70% of the show. The first 5 episodes depicted him trying different versions of the stamp paper scam and almost always ending up short of what he had initially planned or envisioned to achieve with it. This resulted in him trying harder and incorporating new and innovative ideas into the scheme of things, catalysing new challenges, and unlocking greater avenues of illegal profit in the process. This also opened him up for bigger threats and risks as he tried to outsmart the system. 

In the series, this give and take between Telgi, and the system goes on and on and yet never feels repetitive or boring. The fact that the story and events shown are taken from real life ensures that the audience’s interest is sustained, as everything that happens in the story is fresh, and every challenge the protagonist faces is new. Even his solutions are unlike anything you have seen in any other crime thriller since they are taken from real life and are neither inspired by nor are a part of a cinematic storytelling format.

Another great quality of the series is how Tushar Hiranandani depicts Telgi navigating his way around people. The biggest lesson to learn from the success of his scam is how he was able to manipulate people and even turn those who hated him for a plethora of reasons on his side, using them to ultimately cripple a long-standing and robust mechanism that formed the financial backbone of the country. There were police officers who initially opposed him but later submitted to his will completely. There was also a brutally honest government official who fell prey to Telgi’s advances later in the series and then does some unbelievably uncharacteristic things for him. There were ministers who initially helped him, then sabotaged him, and then helped him again so that the cash kept flowing. As the story progresses, we see Telgi dealing with these people differently based on his interactions and necessities with them, as well as the stage of financial supremacy and political power that he was in. One of the best examples of this are the scenes that Telgi shares with the character of Bharade (Bharat Jadhav). Bharade initially refuses to grant him licenses for selling stamp papers but is later forced to issue as many licenses as he requests under different names. Bharade later testifies against Telgi in a certain case that leads to his conviction. Later, when Telgi comes back to power, he literally toys with the man who he was apprehensive about for so long, if not afraid.

Gagan Dev Riar as Telgi is a revelation. If Pratik Gandhi was masterful as Harshad Mehta, Riar takes it a few notches up by transforming himself into the character completely. There were portions in the series where he looked so much like the real Telgi that just because of how he was presenting the character, his portrayal, and the portions he was enacting felt uncannily real and lifelike. His transformation through the years as he grew more powerful and earned more was captured brilliantly by Riar. As I mentioned before, I felt that his interactions with different characters and how they transformed as he grew bigger and more powerful were easily one of the highlights of the series. The other actors sharing the screen with him in these portions must also be given due credit, but these scenes wouldn’t be the same without how Riar transformed in body and spirit into the character of Telgi. I was equally impressed by how easily Riar adjusted his mannerisms and portrayal between portions where his character shifted from a commanding position to one where he was at the mercy of his bosses. For all this and more, Gagan Dev Riar’s performance as Abdul Karim Telgi will forever remain etched in the memories of audiences who appreciate good performances.

Some of the other performances that grabbed my attention were the ones from Dinesh Lal Yadav, Mukesh Tiwari, Sana Amin Sheikh, and Nandu Madhav as the flamboyant inspector Dombe, who has some of the most outrageous mannerisms that go with a person when he is drunk. The ensemble cast of the series is consistently brilliant, but these are the actors who stood out for me.

It would be criminal if I didn’t compliment Tushar Hiranandani for his fantastic direction of the series. One has to keep in mind the sheer amount of information that was at his disposal about Telgi and his nefarious activities. Not only did he have to craft a cohesive story from this sea of information with the help of the writers, but he also had to keep it breezy, engrossing, and impactful. Furthermore, he had to leave out substantial portions, which must have been a challenging task as everything about the story is so engrossing. In addition, he knew how to extract the exact kind of performances from the ensemble cast that he needed, and his direction of the actors and their mannerisms and interactions with one another proved to be one of the most impressive aspects of the series and also Hiranandani’s direction.

In conclusion, ‘Scam 2003 – The Telgi Story’ is a gripping series that not only delves into the intricate details of a massive financial scandal but also offers a character-driven narrative that keeps you hooked from start to finish. Gagan Dev Riar’s remarkable portrayal of Abdul Karim Telgi is a tour de force, showcasing his ability to transform into the character with astonishing authenticity and impacting the audience with his essay. The series beautifully captures Telgi’s journey, from his humble beginnings to his meteoric rise in the world of fraudulent stamp papers, all while deftly maneuvering through a web of allies and adversaries and almost always being at the receiving end of challenges and threat. The supporting cast adds depth and flair to the story, with each actor delivering standout performances and bringing in their own distinctive style and mannerisms to the characters. The series masterfully portrays the evolution of Telgi’s character and the intricate relationships he forges along the way, making it a compelling character study of a man who was much more than the scam that he was able to pull off.

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‘Scam 2003 – The Telgi Story’ not only serves as an eye-opening exposé of a scandal that rocked the nation but also highlights the extraordinary human capacity for manipulation and survival. With its well-crafted narrative, exceptional performances, fantastic direction and an engaging portrayal of real-life events, this series is a must-watch for those who appreciate outstanding storytelling and impeccable acting. It’s a testament to the power of compelling storytelling that lingers in your memory long after the credits roll.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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