While Gagan wins praise for his Scam 2003 act, director Tushar recounts how he initially felt the actor wasn’t right choice to play counterfeiter Telgi
A still from the show
The day Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (2020) dropped online, Tushar Hiranandani watched it in one go. He was so taken by the series that he called
creator-director Hansal Mehta at 5.30 am to congratulate him. Three years later, as Scam 2003: The Telgi Story premièred earlier this month, the roles were reversed. Hiranandani recalls, “I had switched off my phone because I was scared [of the reactions]. The moment I switched it on, the first call was from Hansal sir. He said, ‘Are you mad? Don’t switch off your phone. Buy five more phones now. The reviews are fantastic.’”
Scam 2003, based on the stamp paper fraud by Abdul Karim Telgi and fronted by Gagan Dev Riar, has Mehta as the creator-showrunner while Hiranandani serves as the director. Was he apprehensive about stepping into the Scam universe, considering the 2020 offering was a runaway hit? “How could I be scared? It couldn’t get worse than sitting at home. I knew what I was getting into, but I never took the pressure of it. After going through two years of COVID-19, the excitement to do any kind of work was enough for me,” he says.
The director is grateful to Mehta not only for trusting him with the show, but also for giving him a free hand. “Hansal sir is the baap of OTT. He has reached this position because he is so giving. He told me to make Scam colourful and commercial. He gave me absolute freedom to bring my take to the script. [For a sequence set in a dance bar], he said, ‘I don’t know the world of dance bars. I haven’t even been there.’ So, I assured him that I’d shoot in such a manner that he would enjoy watching it.”
Undoubtedly, the series’ biggest victory is its leading man. So compelling has been Riar’s performance that it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else as Telgi on screen. And yet, Hiranandani admits that he was initially concerned whether Riar was the best choice for the role. “Initially, Hansal sir didn’t let me meet him. Then one day, he called us over for dinner. Gagan was supposed to be there too, and I was told he was putting on weight for a year. When I saw him, I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I said, ‘He doesn’t look like Telgi.’ I believed he was talented because Hansal sir chose him, but he didn’t look the part. I took Gagan to a fitness trainer, who made him put on 15 to 16 kilos more.” The director says the biggest validation came soon after, as even the team working on the show couldn’t recognise Riar. “When the marketing team of Applause Entertainment was given the first look to be put out on social media, they asked, ‘How can we put Telgi’s picture? Where is Gagan’s picture?’”