Scam 2003 is dry fare rescued by protagonist’s performance

Gagan Dev Riar plays Abdul Karim Telgi in Scam 2003, a web series on the life of the scamster. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

It’s not healthy: certain trends in web series are not really viewer-friendly. Take the recent The Freelancer, a couple more web series in the past, and so on. The new reprehensible ‘tradition’ is to cut short a story at a crucial point and then expect viewers to await a subsequent season after a gap of weeks or months.

Scam 2003 is a dry, bland saga that motivates you to keep watching it just because you know that the story really happened, caused a big sensation around the country, and also because of its fresh backdrop. The viewer is thrust into the world of stamp papers, government regulations, forgery, corrupt forces in law and politics and an absolutely audacious man, Abdul Karim Telgi (Gagan Dev Riar) from Karnataka. Fundamentally a fruit-seller in a train, Abdul’s credo is “making” and not “earning” money, and his motto is that you have to be daring and take risks in life to do so.

The man talks with utter conviction, can almost talk the hind leg off a donkey, and hobnobs with impossible contacts. In a train, he catches the attention of Shaukat (Talat Aziz), an honest man who owns a small hotel in Mumbai, does the new job as its manager profitably, marries his daughter, Nafisa (Sana Amin Sheikh), migrates to the Gulf, returns and starts his shady deals.

Some initial good breaks make him a shade overconfident, and he soon discovers that the seemingly most incorruptible also have their price. And his devious mind is in full throttle…

Accumulating a small group of like-minded crooked souls one by one, he hits the gravy train. When the five episodes (each too long in my view) are over, we are at a crucial point in his life story, which involves train robberies, masterminding moves to have political backing, either sucking up to or dominating everyone from greedy politicians to needy middle-class souls who should have known better than to risk their professional lives for extra Mammon.

The viewers know how Telgi ended up, or can Google and find out. But there is a difference between whetting the audience appetite for more and exasperating them. This one goes the latter way. As it is, though we come to know everything about stamp papers from the way they are made, transported and sold, it is a dry subject and not only is nowhere as dramatic as an crime drama ingredient ore like SonyLIV’s illustrious-and-more prequel, Scam 1992 on Harshad Mehta, but there are no real moments of high drama, thrills or excitement.

As with many such stories, one or more performances lift up the series. Gagan Dev Riar is a true find. An actor who has been around for quite a while on stage, cinema and TV (notably in A Suitable Boy), he is pitch-perfect in his major break as Abdul Karim Telgi. Leave aside some physical similarities, he exudes the necessary cockiness, glibness, fake and genuine confidence and nonchalantly deceptive attitude that makes his ‘victims’ easy prey to his tactics. He is affectionate to family, and quite real in the way he ignores conventional mores. His gait and his expressions and his “adventures” with English are perfectly done, as is his ferocious burst of temper at a renegade worker. Even when he uncharacteristically falls for a bar dancer (Kirandeep Kaur ) and splurges lakhs on her in a single night as his ego is hurt (one of the best sequences in this series), he is quite in command with his quiet determination.

No other actor in the series has any meat in their roles, but given this fact, Nikhil Ratnaparkhi as the advocate, Nandu Madhav as the cop, Vivek Mishra (I think) as the Nashik Security Press manager Madhusudhan Mishra and Sana Amin Sheikh as Abdul’s wide Nafisa do well.

Technically up to the mark, the series, as it stands, is quite underwhelming. Let us hope that the follow-up season goes right.

Rating: **1/2

Sony LIV presents Applause Entertainment’s & Studio NEXT’s Scam 2003  Produced by: Sameer Nair, Deepak Segal & Indranil Chakraborty Directed by Tushar Hiranandani  Developed by: Hansal Mehta Written by: Sanjay Singh, Karan Vyas, Kiran Yadnyopavit & Kedar Patankar  Music: Ishaan Chhabra  Starring: Gagan Dev Riar, Hemang Vyas, Mukesh Tiwari, Talat Aziz, Sana Amin Sheikh, Bharat Jadhav, Shaad Randhawa, Shashank Ketkar, Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, Dinesh Lal Yadav, Sameer Dharmadhikari, Bharat Dabholkar, Bhavana Balsavar, Nivedita Bhargava, Nandu Madhav, Kirandeep Kaur, Bharat Jadhav, Sanjay Borkar, Mukesh Chhabra & others



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