Five Questions with Hansal Mehta

The first five episodes of Scam 2003: The Telgi Story are now out on Sony LIV.
Five Questions with Hansal Mehta
Five Questions with Hansal Mehta

Hansal Mehta began his career as a director with celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor on Khana Khazana (1993–2000) before making his foray into cinema and garnering critical acclaim with films like Shahid (2013), Aligarh (2016), and Omerta (2017). He has since become one of India’s streaming stars, thanks to the success of Scam 1992, based on the real-life story of the Indian stockbroker Harshad Mehta, and Scoop. “I think I find stories of flawed human beings, stories of flawed and broken systems fascinating and stories that I enjoy telling,” Mehta said while chatting with Film Companion about his new show Scam 2003, a spiritual sequel to its predecessor.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview. 

FC: Can you tell us about what drew you to this particular series and why you chose the Telgi Scam to be the successor of the previous show? 

HM: We had a couple of ideas that were there much before the first season was even released. Telgi is one of them. … Kedar Patankar and Kiran Yadnyopavit were working on this idea before Scam 1992 was released. And then Karan Vyas joined them and added flavour, and became part of the screenplay. This script was further developed with Applause Entertainment, being a constant collaborator on that. I got (director) Tushar Hiranandani much later after I realised that there was a scheduling conflict. I also realised that I wanted a fresh set of eyes. Tushar had been in touch with me in general, and I asked him if he was interested, he jumped at it. He was a huge fan of the first season. 

FC: Between Harshad Mehta and Abdul Karim Telgi, who is your favourite scammer? 

HM: A scammer can never be your favourite (laughs). I mean, they scammed someone. But I think as stories, both of them are unique. The characters are flawed in their own way. They are lovable in their own way. They are human in their own way. And for me, they are both my babies (the two seasons). How do you compare the two? 

Hansal Mehta, Showrunner for Scam 2003
Hansal Mehta, Showrunner for Scam 2003

FC: Scam 2003 is about a complex web of financial crimes. Were there any ethical concerns with humanising the character? 

HM: No, I think my intention behind portraying these characters is never to be judgmental. For me, they're neither good nor bad. It's for the audience to decide. I feel that whether it's good, good and bad is a perspective, but a human being is a human being. The challenge is to humanise. And I don't see good or bad as my job to judge. … What they did with the system is wrong. But were they the only ones who did that? No, they took advantage of a system that was already broken, that was already corrupt. These are tales of a larger systemic rot. 

FC:  Do you think it is easier to depict financial crimes because the grey area is perhaps more morally agreeable? For example, someone like a murderer might be harder to humanise than someone who committed financial fraud because, at the end of the day, you can disconnect and say ‘it's just money’. 

HM: Well, it's a good question. I don't know. I think I've tried to humanise, but not justify. To humanise does mean to justify. I've tried to look sensitively at people like that. Like, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in Omerta (2017) was not a character that was easy to humanise, but we've interpreted that character. I think human nature has the tendency to become something based on the circumstances they are placed in. I'm interested in those circumstances. 

FC: You said that you were actively involved in the casting process. How did you find your perfect cast?

HM: I don't know if I found the perfect cast, but yeah, Mukesh Chhabra and I have been constant collaborators, and we really worked very hard on casting. I push him, he pushes me.

We try to find people that fit into the character. We try to find actors that we have not seen or have not been seen for a long time. We try to find them and try to give a flavour to the character. We try to make the character feel authentic to the audience. I think those choices so far have been paying off. They've been good. Whether it is Rajkumar Rao in Shahid (2012) to Manoj Bajpayee as Professor Siras in Aligarh (2015) to Pratik Gandhi in Scam 1992, Karishma Tanna in Scoop and even Harman Baweja! Now, we have Gagan Dev Riar. … I've been fortunate. I'm grateful that I've had studios who have backed these choices.

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