Review | Scam 2003: The Telgi Story – The Rise & Fall Of The Snake Oil Salesman

Scam 2003: The Telgi Story is a biographical financial thriller developed by Hansal Mehta and directed by Tushar Hiranandani. It features Gagan Dev Riar in pivotal role. The series in now streaming on Sony Liv.

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The Rise & Fall Of The Snake Oil Salesman

Creative Showrunner Hansal Mehta is in a mood to tease the viewer. So he’s released only five episodes, keeping the next instalment for another season in November.

Based on Sanjay Singh’s book Telgi Scam: Reporter Ki Diary, Tushar Hiranandani (the writer who made his debut as director with Saandh Ki Aaankh) wears the official hat of the captain to tell the story of Abdul Karim Telgi (Gagan Dev Riar), the man who scammed the nation by flooding the market with fake stamp papers. 

Where Telgi ultimately landed, we all know. 

How he took off from glib-talking fruit seller to becoming the Rs 3000 crore scamster takes a while to draw you in. It takes two episodes to really get used to the gross-looking Abdul Karim Telgi with the unbecoming pout, thick skin and swagger which has a tummy arriving first and then his heroic confidence that dares the world. Sighing, ‘Mumbai ki hawa mein jadoo hai. Mereko apna mehboob zaroor banayegi’ when he arrives from Khanapur in Karnataka to the city of dreams, is not hot air. It’s the confidence of a conman.  

There is a familiarity in the atmosphere. The signature BGM from Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story lingers on as Telgi’s tune too, for every con in his tale. The one-man kingpin who plays the system, pulling in cops, lawyers, netas and government officials to make money, not earn it (Paisa kamana nahi banana hai), requires self-assurance of another level and the gift of the gab on every occasion. Telgi and Harshad Mehta had different personalities. But working the system was similar.   

Hiranandani and writers Kedar Patankar and Kiran Yagnopavit generously spray the show with one-liners. From selling fruit on the train in Karnataka with a performance before each buyer, ‘1,2,3, orange on the tree’ to telling his lawyer, ‘Tera kayde ka bhasha, mera faayde ka bhasha’, Telgi has a ready line. With a sprinkling of abuses at certain heated moments, Telgi comes up with curious analogies too, likening the mix of asli and naqli stamp papers to urinating in a pond and not getting caught.  Others like slap-happy cop Dombe (Nandu Madhav) also spew dialogues like asking Telgi if he thinks he’s Dayavan or swearing that without paan masala, he’ll deliver colour to his face. 

Until Dombe joins the gang.   

Moving from fake degrees and fake share certificates to fake stamp papers, it’s the food chain of the corrupt that aids Telgi’s scam. There are those, like father-in-law Shaukatbhai (Talat Aziz, well cast) and buddy Kaushal (Hemang Vyas), who don’t want to be a part of his wayward life. But there is a whole line of others, right up to the General Manager of the national printing press in Nashik, who come on board at the right price.

It’s interesting how Telgi sees opportunity for a lucrative scam even in bhangaar (waste material) and then works his way into winning over the crucial figures who can join his team and pull off the dream. Politicians and policemen are easy game, most of the time. It’s the upright that are challenging. A case in point is Madhusudan Mishra (Vivek Mishra) at the printing press in Nashik. 

It’s also about finding an elaborate but workable route to get what he wants, like the time he wants a vendor’s license to sell stamp papers. Or how he gets the supply of official stamp papers shut for his supply to meet the demand in the market.

That he doesn’t snitch on all the names that are a part of his system allows him to keep returning to the racket even after being caught and jailed. 

It also helps that he’d rather compromise and be a chooha (a simple mouse) than show off and attract attention.   

Which is precisely where he slips up.

Although he knows how to keep clueless, trusting wife Nafisa (Sana Sheikh) on his side, his taste for bar dancers and male ego over a dancer go against his self-rule of don’t-attract-attention.

So, does this seal his fate? Because those by his side now want a larger piece of the pie and those who haven’t succumbed, can’t wait to get him anyway. But for all of that, there’s a next instalment coming in November.For the moment, Hiranandani’s recreation of certain scenes like netas celebrating on the streets after a victory looks real and Gagandev Riar grows on you, although you can’t wait for such an oily salesman to get his just deserts.

Rating: 3/5

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The Rise & Fall Of The Snake Oil SalesmanReview | Scam 2003: The Telgi Story - The Rise & Fall Of The Snake Oil Salesman