Director Soumendra Padhi‘s profile of a town known as the epicentre of phishing scams provides terrific insight on life in rural central India and beautiful imagery. But we wish it would sink its teeth deeper into the finer points of the phishing business.
In this town, country kids scam city folk out of cash every day
The series begins with a schoolteacher in the middle of teaching his class a popular Hindi proverb, “Ab pachtaye hot kya jab chidiya chug gayi khet?” (Why regret now when the bird has already ruined the crop?) He is interrupted by a phone call from his bank, telling him that he has won a Maruti car in a lucky draw. Delighted at the prospect of getting a free car, he discloses his credit card number, CVV and the one-time password that he gets on his phone.
The caller is Sunny Mondal (Sparsh Shrivastava), an expert at imitating a woman’s voice. He is all of 17 years old, and leads an elaborate phishing operation run by a bunch of boys his age. These barely-educated boys are proficient at conning folks in big cities, making lakhs in a day. This is a way of life in Jamtara, a small district in the state of Jharkhand and the epicentre of phishing scams in the country.
The focus is more on power play, less on the mechanics of phishing
Set against the backdrop of phishing, Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega hinges on two cousins, Sunny and Rocky Mondal (Anshuman Pushkar), squabbling over the empire of crime they have created. Rocky is older, more flamboyant and has political aspirations. Sunny is the brains behind the set-up and prefers to be low-profile. He plans to marry Gudiya Singh (Monika Panwar), a local English teacher, with the intention of using her language skills for his operations. While Rocky and Sunny are constantly at loggerheads, things really head south when, against Sunny’s wishes, Rocky decides to join hands with Brajesh Bhan (Amit Sial), a cold-blooded local politician who wants a share of the phishing pie. In the middle of all this, Dolly Sahu (Aksha Pardasany) arrives in Jamtara as the new superintendent of police. She’s determined to end the phishing plague.
The makers deliver taut storytelling and convincing performances, but neglect going into the details of phishing. Phishing is called the “most intelligent crime” in one scene, but little is shown of the nitty-gritties of phishing scams, such as how the phishers procure lists of potential victims to call or how the transactions work. The series also says nothing on how these kids turned to phishing in the first place. Instead, the makers choose to focus on the power dynamics between Rocky and Brajesh on one side, and Sunny and Gudiya on the other.
The second half of the show is largely an action fest. Brajesh leaves no stone unturned in his attempt to win this battle of power. Meanwhile, the police launch a drive to crack down on phishers. Amit Sial does a terrific job bringing to life Brajesh Bhan, whose aura of menace is palpable. The action sequences are impressively shot. However the show progresses at a hurried pace, leaving viewers with sketchy impressions of characters. Their inner worlds are opaque. Despite these drawbacks, Jamtara’s unpredictable narrative keeps you hooked.
The show serves up some smart social commentary
Visually, Jamtara does a great job in showing rural Jharkhand. The houses, the police station, the outdoors, all seem authentic. The makers have also done an impressive job of drawing a portrait of the social dynamics of the place. They’ve shown how caste discrimination and patriarchy are part of everyday life. It’s refreshing to have a woman as the no-nonsense cop in the story, a role generally reserved for men in crime dramas. Of course, Dolly Sahu must deal with her share of toxic patriarchy while going after the bad guys.
If there’s one way the young phishers redeem themselves, it’s that they rise above caste. All they care about is making money. For instance, Sunny doesn’t hesitate in making Gudiya an equal partner in his operations. “Jab khud ka aukat dhele bhar ka na ho na, toh jaat nahi dekhna chahiye” (When your own standing isn’t worth anything, you shouldn’t care about caste), Gudiya tells her mother, when the woman objects to her daughter’s decision to marry Sunny, who belongs to a lower caste.