The sepia-toned, dusty peek into Jharkhands elaborate vishing (phone fraud) scams is director Soumendra Padhis sophomore venture. Titled Jamtara - Sabka Number Ayega, after the district, notorious for being one of the largest hubs of cybercrime in the country, the series (being lauded for its gripping plot) consumed two-and-a-half years of Padhis life. With the sea crashing outside the window during our chat at Mumbais Taj Lands End, the director conjures images of the small district, which houses numerous people raking in fortunes by scamming people over phone calls and dives into how he and his team pieced together the seasons 10 episodes. The series comes at a time when there's no escaping digital scams, the most recent being the e-wallet scam where a Mumbai doctor lost 1.7 lakh last week.
Padhi shares that the script started coming together in 2015 when writers Trishant Srivastava and Nishank Verma came across a news article. It detailed how juveniles in Jamtara sought credit card details from people around the country to siphon off money, and the ways in which they carefully covered up their tracks. It was very intriguing, says Padhi, whose team made multiple visits to the district. These children are school dropouts, he says, adding how the district relies primarily on agriculture, while vishing constitutes a large parallel economy.
Brothers at play
The series revolves around cousins Sunny Mondal (Sparsh Shrivastava) and Rocky (Anshumaan Pushkar) and their group of successful teenage conmen. Tensions rise and splinter the group by the brothers differing aspirations. And brought in to tackle this mushrooming issue is the young and determined Superintendent of Police, Dolly Sahu (Aksha Pardasany).
Against this backdrop, we often watch women rarely being taken seriously from being pursued by men as rewards for their financial success, to seeing their efforts to make strides in their lives and careers dismissed but, as Padhi stresses, Jamtara cannot be told without Dolly and Gudiya. While Gudiya weaponises English in their scams, Dolly pulls together the first organised crackdown on Jamtaras transgressions.
Show me the money
The show also alludes to how this relentless pursuit of money is brought on by greed, the need to support families, and a desperation to redraw the caste and class lines that make power and respect hover beyond reach.
[The show] is a blend of fact and fiction, says Padhi. While the germ of a story may be found in details like the 2017 arrest of the Mondal brothers and the female Jamtara Superintendent, Jaya Roy, the presence of Munna and Bachha (Rohit KP and Harshit Gupta) as the perpetually stoned and intoxicated omniscient narrators lends the story the weight of an epic tale from the hinterlands. Their function is like the three witches of Macbeth, he says of the two characters sometimes giggling in the background, sometimes gravely drawing parallels between Jamtaras stories and the Mahabharata. Like Narad Muni. The two advance the story and increase the tension.
Their research involved travelling around the district with local police. We would sneak in secretly, he says, The police took us to places where a remote control opens their home. Padhi recollects a moment the police didnt believe some of the tactics the young men use to hide their trail: One boy demonstrated by putting 5,000 in the policemans account!
Padhi has been riveted by, and retold, true stories before. His dbut feature, the Manoj Bajpayee-starrer and winner of the National Award for Best Childrens Film, Budhia Singh (2016) was on the child marathon runner from Odisha. The director thrived on the grey shades of the narrative, refusing to gloss over the dark bits of the story a coach relentlessly pushing a five-year-old to train running long distances, irrespective of the scorching heat and his parched throat.
Here too, the director was careful not to caricaturise the setting. Jamtara is very beautiful, he says, [we didnt want to use] any gimmicks. We [didnt want] to show ugliness or messiness just to titillate. [And] we didnt want to judge anybody all the characters are grey.
Jamtara is streaming on Netflix.