Almost a year later, Trishant Srivastava is still filled with trepidation when asked about Jamtara – Sabka Number Ayega. “I am content the way it’s turned out,” Srivastava said about the Netflix show, which he co-wrote along with Nishank Verma.
Although Jamtara was released in January, Srivastava still hasn’t watched the series fully. “As a writer, you can never really be happy,” he said. “If I see [parts of the show] I always feel I could have written something different.”
The 10-episode series, directed by Soumendra Padhi, is among 2020’s most compelling shows. Jamtara fictionalises actual accounts of phishing – fraudulent modes of gathering sensitive information through electronic communication to steal money. Performed by a cast of mostly newcomers – Sparsh Shrivastav, Monika Panwar, Anshuman Pushkar, Aasif Khan and Kartavya Kabra – Jamtara is a deep dive into a place that is considered India’s phishing hub. Each episode is tightly packed, swiftly shifting between various character arcs.
Does the cliffhanger ending mean a second season? Srivastava said that he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the future of the show.
Srivastava, who has previously written for television, knew that the subject had an inexplicable lure ever since he came across journalist Deepu Sebastian Edmond’s investigation for a national daily. The article chronicled how a single cell phone service tower from the town in Jharkhand saw 3,000 outgoing calls a day, mostly to other states.
“We met a lot of people who went through these scams and our researchers managed to get a few nice interviews with a couple of police officers and some local boys,” Srivastava recalled. Getting people to talk was the hardest, since victims were reticent to admit their folly and perpetrators were tight-lipped to avoid giving too much away.
“The final story is a fictional account of all these stories together,” Srivastava said. One instance in the series is a hare-brained undercover operation in which a police chief poses as an English-speaking bride to lure a phishing criminal. The incident is based on a real-life effort by the Delhi police in November 2015.
The screenplay weaves in issues revolving around caste and misogyny, the perils of greed and the constraints of the law. “These are mostly 16 and 17-year-olds and this is a very backward place,” Srivastava said. “It’s such an unassuming place and it took the whole country by storm.”
Jamtara is among a bunch of web series set in small towns in Northern India, including Mirzapur, Panchayat and Hasmukh. “We did not want our story to be generic, like a lot of those based on the hinterland,” Srivastava pointed out. “It’s become a cliche because we’re not choosing our stories wisely. Setting a premise in a rustic place alone doesn’t mean it will be exciting.”