When Scam 1992 broke into the Indian OTT space three years ago, the web series scene in this country didn’t have much to offer other than Sacred Games or Made in Heaven. Upon its arrival, Hansal Mehta’s biographical epic on the convicted stockbroker Harshad Mehta not only became a rage among the audience, but it also made people take the Indian OTT space seriously. Three years later, its lead star, Pratik Gandhi, a relatively unknown face back then, is a household name who we regularly see in commercials where the now iconic Scam 1992 intro music plays in the background. Hansal Mehta, already a prolific director at the time of the show’s arrival, is on a career-high after delivering the Netflix thriller series Scoop only a few months ago. Considering all that, the second installment of the Scam franchise, titled Scam 2003: The Telgi Story, is possibly the most anticipated Indian OTT release of this year, as it should be. The show is based on Telgi: A Reporter’s Diary, authored by Sanjay Singh. The question is, did it hit the mark like last time?
In a manner of irony, the Telgi scam actually started in 1992 and reached its culmination in 2003. The infamous demolition of the Babri Masjid back in the same year, 1992, is touched upon, but the Harshad Mehta scam is never mentioned by anyone. The story takes us back to as early as 1981, and we meet a very young Abdul Karim Telgi selling fruit to make ends meet. But his spirit is always high, and his hunger to make something of himself soon lands him in the city of dreams, Mumbai. The thing about watching the cinematic interpretation of a real-life figure as colorful as Telgi is that you already know that one day this guy will make a ridiculous amount of money by doing something illegal and eventually end up in prison. Yet, watching him struggle initially makes you root for him.
The writing and acting have a lot to do with this part, and the show has nailed it in these departments yet again. In case you have no idea who Abdul Karim Telgi was, you can most certainly find all the necessary information on the internet or even jump into the show without knowing anything, as it is designed that way. But if you are still looking for a little tidbit about the central story of this season, then here you go. The humble man from Karnataka happens to be one of the biggest fraudsters India has ever seen, thanks to his counterfeiting stamp papers in order to make money for more than a decade.
For the uninitiated, stamp papers are essential for doing many kinds of legal work, like making deeds, creating agreements, or doing affidavits. Telgi started with the counterfeiting of passports, which he used to do with the agenda of sending people to the Middle East, especially the ones who were looking for work. Not to mention, the man had spent years in the Gulf himself as well. Known for its knack for vivid detailing, the show has predictably covered this part of Telgi’s life in the initial episodes. Of course, it also delves into Telgi’s transformation into a big shot, and the infamous Topaz Bar incident, where he showered a bar dancer with as much as 90 lakhs of Indian rupees, also gets featured in one of the episodes.
In what should be considered absolutely brilliant casting, Gagan Dev Riar, an actor who is known in the drama circuit, plays the part of Telgi. However, looking at his performance, it seems more like he lived the part than just played it. Yes, Riar, who has just about two thousand followers on Instagram and is about to skyrocket to a substantially higher number soon, is just that great. One of the most interesting things about Telgi was that, in spite of making all that money, he was not a man of arrogance or smug attitude. Humility never really left him. Riar, who is blessed enough to look like a twin to the man, plays Telgi with as much authentic similarity to the real man as possible, which makes the character endearing enough to cheer for, at least in his early days. Riar’s lead performance as the counterfeiter turned convict is as good as the one of Pratik Gandhi in this first season, if not better, which continues the Scam franchise’s trend of unknown but talented actors delivering breakthrough performances.
The stacked supporting cast of this season consists of some known names like Mukesh Tiwari and musician Talat Aziz, as well as names like Sana Amin Sheikh, Shaad Randhawa, Shashank Ketkar, and Sameer Dharmadhikari, among many others. Tiwari, a seasoned actor unfortunate enough to be popular for Rohit Shetty’s “Golmaal” films, is finally getting an opportunity to show his acting skills, which again proves the importance of the Indian OTT wave, which, over the last few years, has given a lot of actors the opportunities they were awaiting. Talat Aziz is an interesting casting choice as the musician dons the hat of Telgi’s early-day mentor and employer, Shaukat Bhai, who offers the main man a job at his guest house in Mumbai while Telgi is selling fruits on the train.
While Riar is absolutely fantastic and deserves all the love and appreciation, the same can’t be said about this installment of the franchise. It has the same look, feel and storytelling style as Scam 1992, but there is a severe lack of edginess, which was particularly responsible for making the OG season what it was. The original intro is still there, but this time, Mehta serves as the showrunner and creative director only. Tushar Hiranandani, who has been in the industry for almost two decades, directs the season, adhering to Mehta’s vision. Hiranandani does a fairly good job at it with the help of his crew. The issue with Scam 2003 is that it doesn’t offer anything particularly riveting, unlike its predecessor. With changing times and an abundance of OTT content in India, and most essentially the burden of an almost perfect maiden season, Scam 2003 does fall short when it comes to fulfilling expectations, but it is still an engaging watch that should be praised for its detailing and the phenomenal lead performance.