Scam 2003’s Telgi actor Gagan Dev Riar feels lucky actors today are cast based on talent, ‘not just looks’ | Exclusive

Gagan Dev Riar, who plays Abdul Karim Telgi in Scam 2003, opens up on the show.

A spiritual successor to Scam 1992, the new SonyLIV show Scam 2003 charts the rise and fall of scamster Abdul Karim Telgi. Actor Gagan Dev Riar portrays Telgi in the show, which has been created by Hansal Mehta and directed by Tushar Hiranandani. Prior to the show’s release, Gagan speaks to DNA about how he was cast, his process, and the anonymity he enjoys despite being in showbiz.

You play Abdul Karim Telgi, a real person but not someone who was in the media spotlight that much. Was it liberating to play such a real-life figure who is not imprinted in people’s minds?

It was definitely liberating because had a lot of people known that person, your approach needs to be different as an actor. You have to externally adapt your body language. Here, Hansal sir and Tushar ji told me right at the beginning to develop it as per my idea because there isn’t a lot on how he walked or talked. Even then, whatever videos were available on the internet, I watched them for reference, using it as a base to create the character.

Scam 2003 is the spiritual successor to Scam 1992, which was a hugely successful show. Do you feel any pressure in having to live up to its legacy?

I never pressurised myself by thinking that I need to match the success of Scam 1992 or the level of performance. I needed to do my job honestly and believe in what I am doing. Thankfully, I got good direction from Hansal sir and Tushar sir. As an actor, Pratik Gandhi (the lead of Scam 1992) has his plus points and good things and I have mine. These two know very well that every actor is different so they never pressurised me. I have come with a fresh approach, free of fear.

How did you come about to be cast as Telgi?

Hansal sir had watched a few of my performances, including Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya and Mira Nair’s series A Suitable Boy. He had watched them and maybe he felt this actor could be selected for this role. One day (casting director) Mukesh Chhabra called me that we are considering you for this role and you are the only option for this. I went for the audition and they didn’t like it. But I was given another chance after which I went home and prepared. Then the next audition I gave worked.

You have worked in theatre for several years and done a few shows and films too. But you are still a relatively unknown commodity for the audience.

I find it liberating that I am coming without any baggage. Not many people know what kind of roles I can do and what my range is as an actor. Now, people will watch and other directors will watch as well and they will get to know. I don’t want to tie myself down for any one kind of role though. Because the real fun is when each time you come on screen, it feels you have never seen him before.

But being an unknown commodity also makes people curious about you. There are already a dozen ‘who is Gagan Dev Riar’ news stories online. You must be enjoying this phase…

The other day a few people were abusing me in the comments section and asking , ‘ab ye kau aa gaya (now who is this)’. I was laughing while reading those comments and wondering why they were hurling abuses. At least see my work. There is a different thrill of being in this zone because I may never get this again in my life. I want to enjoy this phase too when people used to abuse me and ask ‘ye kaun aa gaya’.

Something that OTT has done is that it has created content where actors are cast based on their fit for the role, where creators can look beyond the usual commercial tropes of a lead – good looking, chiselled with six packs. Do you feel lucky to be working in such a time?

I would consider myself lucky that I was born at a time when such things are being made and in those shows and films, good artistes are needed, not just people who look good. They need people who know their work and who can do justice to those stories. I am lucky to be part of this whole time, this whole movement that is going on OTT.

Scam 2003, based on the infamous 2003 stamp paper counterfeiting scam, also stars Mukesh Tiwari, Sana Amin Sheikh, Bharat Jadhav, and Shaad Randhawa. The series premieres on SonyLIV on September 1.

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