Most people have at some point or the other received a call announcing that they’ve won a terrific sum at a lottery they don’t remember playing. Or an email that’s an urgent appeal for money from someone stranded at an airport. These are patently dubious but such is their power of persuasion that they’ve conned many. Soumendra Padhi, who shot to fame with his National Award-winning directorial debut Budhia Singh – Born To Run (2016), has made a series on phishing scams, Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega. The Netflix original is based on the true story of an elaborate phishing operation run by a group of young boys in Jharkhand’s Jamtara district. The show stars Amit Sial, Sparsh Shrivastav, Monika Panwar, Anshuman Pushkar and Aksha Pardasany. We interviewed Padhi, who told us about how he stumbled across Jamtara’s phishing cottage industry.
When did you first hear about Jamtara?
It was a story run by The Indian Express in 2015 that first caught my eye. My team and I found the story very interesting, and we decided to research this further. My writing team first went to Jamtara, and eventually I spent some time there too. The more we learnt about the place, the more we were intrigued. It was fascinating how young kids from the region, most of them underage and who hadn’t completed school, were proficient at conning educated and tech-savvy professionals living in metros. Doctors, engineers, lawyers…these boys have managed to fool them all.
What was your impression of the place?
Jamtara is a very beautiful place, and very quiet too. On first impression it would be hard for one to believe that the place is a hotbed of crime. The region houses hardly 2,000 people, but has over 40 mobile phone shops to cater to the phishers. One of the things that amused us is that Karmatand, the place in Jamtara where most of these crimes take place, has a cyber police station but not a regular police station. I think it must be the only place in the country with this unique distinction.
Tell us how you conducted research for the show.
We took the help of the local police there for our research, because we weren’t sure whether it was safe to go around the place on our own. All the main characters in the show have a basis in real life. Rocky, Sunny, Gudiya, Dolly, Brajesh, all of them exist in the real world. We met with them and the writing team spent considerable time with them.
Amit Sial is the only known cast member. The rest are new faces. Tell us about casting the show.
It was a conscious decision to cast new faces. The show, of course, is set in Jharkhand, a state that hasn’t received much coverage on such a large platform. We thought that having new faces would add to the mystery element around the show. We were looking to create an ensemble cast with students of National School of Drama (NSD) and Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).
Do you have a phishing story?
My wife once received a call from a phisher. After listening patiently, she told him she was aware of his scam and also knew that he was calling from Jamtara, to which he was taken aback. He took a pause, said “I love you, madam” and hung up. You can see that these kids are very quirky. They have a sense of humour and know the art of conversing.
Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega will be released on Friday, January 10 on Netflix. Watch the trailer here.