Abdul Karim Telgi.... This name may hardly ring a bell among the Gen Z. But for most others, this name became synonymous in the early 2000s for what would become the biggest stamp paper scam in India. It is this scam involving Telgi that Hansal Mehta's latest web series Scam 2003 on Sony LIV throws light on.
In 2020, Mehta released Scam 1993, which told the story of small time stock broker Harshad Mehta who makes it big on the Dalal Street only to be eventually caught for his illegal insider trading means he used to make crores.
Scam 2003 is based on the book Telgi Scam: Reporters Diary. It starts off in a nondescript hamlet of Khanapur in Karnataka where Abdul Karim Telgi, makes a living by selling fruits on the train, despite being a graduate. Living by the side of the tracks in a shanty, he dreams of one day having a firm roof over his head.
A chance encounter with an individual on the train lands him in Mumbai, the city of dreams. And it is here that Telgi chases his dreams, from starting off as a manager of a guest house to eventually becoming the kingpin of what would become the country's largest stamp paper scam that burnt a hole worth thousands of crore in the government's exchequer and led to the resignation of then deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal.
Telgi always wants to do bigger things in life. And despite his initial setbacks, his confidence doesn't seem to have shaken. As he says on several occasions, “mujhe paise kamane nahi hain, banane hain” (I don’t want to earn money, but make money). How he goes about it and eventually makes crores selling fake stamp papers, making friends along the way and managing the system including bureaucrats, politicians and ministers alike is the story of Scam 2003.
Overall the web series makes for a gripping tale. But, it is quite slow to take off. The story begins with the shot of Telgi undergoing a narco analysis test. But, from there the directors Mehta and Tushar Hiranandani transport us to Khanapur and the first couple of episodes slowly revolve around Telgi's life in the village, his move to Mumbai and his initial struggles there. The story picks up pace from the third episode (there are five) and will make you want to watch further how the scam unfolds and how Telgi manages to keep everyone from the corridors of Mantralaya to the government's printing press in Nashik happy.
The web series has fine performances from actors like Bharat Jadhav, Mukesh Tiwari, Shashank Ketkar, Sameer Dharmadikari, Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, Nandu Madhav and Bhavana Balsawar. They shine in the limited screen time they get. But they are all side shows.
The story is all about the protagonist Abdul Karim Telgi played by Gagan Dev Riar. Even his wife played by Sana Amin Sheikh has little to do. He features in almost every scene in the web series and has done a brilliant job portraying Telgi. Never once do we feel he is going overboard or over acting as he goes about thinking about the next big thing.
The catchy music, we first heard in Scam 1993, also features here and keeps us hooked to the tale.
This web series is told from the eyes of Abdul Karim Telgi and should be on your watch list. You may feel bored, especially in the initial episodes. But hang in there and eventually it will keep you engrossed and intrigued on what comes next.
Show: Scam 2003: The Telgi Story
Directed by: Tushar Hiranandani and Hansal Mehta
Streaming on: Sony LIV