‘The Telgi Story’ a celebration of hustle, but also indictment of systemic rot: Hansal Mehta

New Delhi: “Scam 2003: The Telgi Story”, Hansal Mehta’s take on stamp paper counterfeiter Abdul Karim Telgi, looks at the illegality of the means to achieve success and is also an indictment of the systemic rot that breeds corruption, says the filmmaker.

The first in the series was “Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story”, an instant success that made an overnight star out of lead actor Pratik Gandhi. Made during the pandemic, it marked the filmmaker’s streaming debut. And Mehta is hoping this one, starring Gagan Dev Riar, will be just as popular.

“It is a recognition of hustle and at the same time, it is the indictment of the means you apply to achieve an absolutely disproportionate kind of success.

“While ‘Scam’ is a celebration of hustle, it is an indictment of illegality, of the systemic rot that forces you to play with the system and forces you to breed corruption,” Mehta told PTI in an interview.

The director, who says he has been hustling for the last 30 years as a storyteller, followed the success of “Scam 1992” with an equally praised series in “Scoop” on journalist Jigna Vora who was jailed after the murder of J Dey.

“The Telgi Story”, directed by Tushar Hiranadani and based on Sanjay Singh’s book “Reporter Ki Diary”, tells the story of how Telgi ran a multi-crore scam by printing counterfeit stamps and stamp papers through a syndicate. It came to light in mid-2002. Telgi was later convicted and sentenced to multiple years in jail. He died in 2017.

“We live in a time where people who don’t have the opportunity to shine, need to hustle to find that opportunity. I have done that since ‘Khana Khazana’ days. (It’s been) 30 years of hustling. But my hustle has been different from Mr Telgi. I would like to believe that I haven’t scammed my way into where I am,” Mehta said.

Riar, a talent that Mehta had his eyes on for a while, was supposed to play a role in the Harshad Mehta instalment but he was busy with “A Suitable Boy” at the time.

“I have been seeking Gagan for a while…. I had seen ‘Sonchiriya’ and then I saw ‘A Suitable Boy’ and realised what I had missed in ‘Scam’. And when this show came up, I proposed his name and everyone jumped at it. There can’t be a better casting for this,” Mehta said.

While he is not someone who believes that actors should resemble the characters they are playing but this time it really worked.

“For me, more than the physical resemblance, it is important to internalise the character. But in this case, there is an uncanny resemblance that Gagan has managed to get with the original person and that was just an icing on the cake. He is going to curse me for this because he had to put on so much weight for this,” the director said.

Riar, who has over 25 years of experience in theatre, said he approached Telgi without judgment.

“When I was starting to build this character, sir told me, ‘Don’t look at this character from the perspective of whether he is negative or positive or a criminal. Look at him as a day-to-day hustler because when someone struggles with societal rules, one can either find the right path or take a wrong turn,” Riar told PTI.

“In my eyes, I am the hero. I know my problems and what steps I take to solve them are right according to me. That’s the way I approached it and went through this journey of playing this character,” he added.

Riar, who has starred in theatrical productions of “Stories in a Song”, “Piya Behrupiya” and “Baaghi Albele”, said he was a bit bewildered with all the attention coming his way ahead of the series premiere on SonyLiv on September 2.

“Actually, I’m a lazy person in life. I rarely leave my house which is why I have not given too many auditions or chased people for work. I would be happy with what I would get in the theatre and be content. I think Hansal sir has changed that for me,” he said.

“I’m trying to deal with the plethora of comments and compliments on social media. I feel like I’m in a trance, something that you experience after watching a good film or after a good party.” The series is produced by Applause Entertainment in association with Sony’s Studio Next. It is written by Marathi Marathi writer Kiran Yadnyopavit and Karan Vyas.

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