'Money Mafia', a weekly documentary series on Discovery+, taps into something that speaks to many of us: the desire to make millions, and to see those with ill-begotten wealth get caught.
‘We could recover only 100 crore worth of property,' says R. Srikumar, chief of the investigating team (retired DG Police, Karnataka). According to the reports, Abdul Karim Telgi started out as just a simple fruit seller at the Khanapur railway platform (Belgaum now Belagavi district of Karnataka) with his brothers. But he was not happy selling fruit and peanuts to the passengers of the 12 trains that stopped at the station. He completed his education, and took his dreams of getting rich quickly to Bombay (Mumbai).
We are remote-control warriors. We live by laws, and have grown up to fear the wrath of the all-knowing Gods and Karma. Perhaps that is why we watch shows like Scam 1992 and Bad Boy Billionaires (which tell us how Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Subrata Roy got away with their schemes and plans), and movies like The Big Bull. When Satyam sues Netflix and they do not air that episode, we seek out details elsewhere. We are obsessed with people who make millions, and we secretly love it when they are caught doing something wrong. I watch these shows obsessively, and wonder why even men like John Delorean, who designed a beautiful car, was happy to fuel his extravagant lifestyle by skimming off his own company, thousands of people working in a war torn city, and even governments. What drives them?
So when Discovery+ chose to air Money Mafia, I watched with complete attention. The story of mind-bending scam hatched and run successfully for years by a fruit seller absorbed me.
Fun fact from the journalist this documentary credits as someone who investigated the scam - Mandar Parab: Everyone thinks that we send criminals to jail to repent and become better citizens. Far from the truth. Petty criminals meet hardened criminals, and they form teams and plan even more crimes.
Reporter Sanjay Singh from Zee who has been acknowledged as the one who broke the story gets no mention at all. And once you begin to wonder why about one fact, then the show sort of unravels.
Very dramatically the whistleblower Jayant Tinaikar makes his entry and tells us how he was turned away from every police station because no one believed his story, how he wrote to the then President of India about the scam and so on. I want to know three things that the documentary makers should have asked Tinaikar: how did he hear about the scam? If the forgeries were so good that no one could make out which was real and which was fake, how did Jayant Tinaikar know the stamp papers were fake? Which police officer did finally accept his ‘khabar’ about the fake stamp papers?
The documentary would have been ‘cooler’ had they followed up on Ratan Soni who showed Telgi in jail that fake stamp papers were a bigger money making enterprise than forging passports and sending people to the Middle East.
YouTube has more information than the documentary does, which is a pity, because you want to know how his need to make money quickly drove him from a failed sales guy in Bombay and in Saudi to someone who could make and sell forged passports and job documents only to be caught by the cops.
The documentary says he was charming and well-spoken, and he used that to get people from the Indian Security Press in Nashik to comply with his request for a supposedly ‘junked’ stamp paper printing machine, paper and even the special inks they used to print the stamp papers authorised by the government.
The documentary even has interviewed two-time MLA Anil Gote (who has spent four years in prison for counterfeiting) who insists Telgi was the fall guy for politicians and police and bureaucrats who were actually part of the scam. One thing that he said resonated: If the people from the government-authorised printing press were helping him with everything, and Telgi’s associates were stopping the goods trains and stealing boxes of real stamp paper, why would anyone want to print fake ones?
A blink and you’ll miss appearance of the female DIG police Rupa Moudgil who reports about Telgi’s lavish lifestyle inside the prison and is transferred immediately afterwards, is never followed through.
I loved Telgi’s challenge to the police that he will never tell them about the four Ps: the involvement of the police, the politicians, the press and about the properties that have been converted. But then the documentary doesn’t explain why Telgi begins to spill names of the police officers and others complicit in his scam.
All in all, this episode of Money Mafia feels like a very poorly written summary of movies you see on OTT platforms. Will I watch the others in the weekly series? Of course I will!
Kudos to Discovery+; they feel new in the game that is dominated by Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and the others, but this is a brave foot in the door. Like I said, who wouldn’t want to make money? But Karma sits besides us, watching us wish for that little windfall, that little more than what we have to pay our bills, and making sure we stick with the straight and narrow.