EXCLUSIVE: Jamtara’s Soumendra Padhi; ‘People are interested in scammers’

There is a huge fan base of crime shows and shows that highlight the unending focus on money. From Mirzapur to Scam 1992, the crime genre keeps pouring into fascinating series. In a plethora of gory, gritty titles, Jamtara becomes a largely bloodless sleeper. But after season 1 and the recently released season 2, it’s clear why people shouldn’t indulge in this tale of a phishing scam taking place in a seemingly peaceful part of Jharkhand. With the return of the main cast of Monika Panwar, Sparsh Shrivastav, Amil Sial, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Anshumaan Pushkar and others, the second installment has become political. Jamtara creator and director Soumendra Padhi evokes fresh and startling cybercrime stories, and it’s more timely than ever.

In an exclusive interview, Padhi opens up about the type of crime and why the money mania has us all addicted.

What would you like to do differently with Jamtara Season 2?

There’s still a lot to explore after Season 1 – where did the sim come from? Where does the file come from? Where did the money come from and where did it go? Also, many new scams have surfaced. For example, Sunny and Gudiya have no option to leave Jamtara. They have to fight back, and to fight back, they have to choose a political way. While they get their money through phishing, OTP doesn’t work anymore. So they have to invent new scams – phishing is driving elections, and likewise Brijesh is fighting Gudia (Monica Panwar) who is backed by his own Bua (Seema Pahwa). So they team up with new scammers. This season explores how phishing goes hand in hand and how one affects the other. This is the theme of revenge. It’s almost like the David and Goliath story.

While the crime genre is full of stylized, gritty films and shows, Jamtara maintains its realistic tone…

When I first read Jamtara Pilot, it was set in Jharkhand. Most Indians do not know where Jharkhand is on the map. It seems to be a very mysterious place with mysterious characters. It was as if the call was coming from some village, boys and girls were sitting in a bamboo grove, they were on the phone, looking at people from all over India – from lawyers to teachers, people in white-collar jobs. So we wanted to explore. It is so ingrained in reality that there is no other way to tell the story. Another thing that interests me is the absolute lack of bloodshed. Their only weapon is their cell phone. They won’t shoot you, they’ll just call you, have a nice conversation with you, and in the end, they’ll convince you to give them an OTP. If it was a crime involving bloodshed, I wouldn’t be interested in it. You also don’t see blood in season one because they don’t need to do that.

Which movies and shows have influenced your film work?

A lot of filmmakers have influenced me over time. I would say from watching The Shawshank Redemption, 400 Strikes, October Sky, to Anurag Kashyap movies, to The Queen’s Gambit. I have multiple influences and different styles of filmmaking. So because I’ve eaten so many types of movies. It’s a mix, so I try to find my own voice and my style of filmmaking through the stories I choose and the characters I choose.


What is the field research process like?

Before season 1, we went to Jamtara. The plane landed in Ranchi and we started our road trip from there. It’s a beautiful place with lovely people, a beautiful language, a melting pot of different cultures and natural beauty. But while there is beauty, there is also crime and kidnapping. The technological new age of SIM cards and easy access to the internet and unemployed youth have created a different cocktail. It’s a small, sparsely populated place with only 30 mobile stores. If you go there, you’ll find the entire family caught in phishing. Their mud houses have been replaced by palatial buildings, all thanks to phishing. Also, the common people have no real regrets, because some are children of farmers, or parents who died of alcoholism, so they choose this road because it is easier and there is no bloodshed. It’s easier for them than kidnapping and they get a lot of money from it. They are also naive. They don’t know they are playing with fire. At first, the police did not believe such a thing would happen. We went to a police station and we saw televisions, unregistered luxury cars, luxury chairs, and a 13-year-old boy lying to a Supreme Court lawyer somewhere in Delhi. His father asked the police to let him go. These are our experiences. At the same time, girls, all of whom are under the age of 18, are also starting to take part in the scam. They didn’t go to school, but their art of conversation was amazing. We are not ready to deal with these issues as a system. All these factors piqued our interest.

Why do you think audiences are addicted to shows like Money Heist and Scam 1992 that highlight the money boom?

Money is something today’s young people can relate to because they want something and they can’t balance the morality of right and wrong. In the material world, money has this connection, and everyone needs it at different stages of life, regardless of background. We always end up doing work that we don’t like, but we do it for cash, so it’s relevant to all of us. It’s hard to choose from the heart, and sometimes we just choose to survive. Somewhere, most characters have the dilemma of choosing between right and wrong. How far will you go for the money? All of us face this problem in our lives. Plus, the shows have a binge factor – all the hooks are right, the freeze points are right every episode. Jamtara has a connection because everyone gets phishing calls, and Money Heist has a connection because it’s about going after money, and it’s done in a really fun way.


With the addition of Seema Pahwa, you’ve put together a solid cast, what does she bring to the show?

Seema Pahwa has watched season 1 and when we approached her she was very excited. On a Zoom call, she agreed to do the show, and she’s an amazing person and collaborator. She takes care of the young co-stars. Likewise, Dibyendu and Amit Sial bring their amazing experiences in the theater world, where they get along well with young actors who are eager to do better and prove themselves. As long as we do it well, the platform gives us a lot of freedom to explore. This really worked for us in season 1 and 2. The ecosystem supports us in doing this kind of work.

This season is more political, how do you balance directing Jamtara as a crime drama and a political drama?

The people of Jamtara have a lot of money, and they didn’t know what to do with so much cash when they were young. This part of society has been suppressed for so long, and money is enough. They also want power and a greater say in things. So they choose politics, and many fund political parties. We follow the character all the way. The director’s choice is no exaggeration. We just wanted to do what the characters would do. That’s how we’re grounded in reality rather than adding something to elevate the show. It’s not forced.

With Delhi Crimes winning an Emmy, Indian originals have garnered international attention. How much power is this?

I think Derry Crime is a groundbreaking show, it’s fantastic. Both seasons met expectations. Indian story, Indian cast, great acting and amazing filmmaking. There are no big stars in it, which is very encouraging. That’s what happened with Jamtara as well – we had actors who had been waiting for a chance, and they got their chance on a major streaming platform backed by a major studio. New actors who are good and given the right opportunity can succeed. In the industry, this is a huge inspiration. I think now we can’t complain about nepotism because the actors got their chance.


There was such a cinematic moment in season 2 – a tree with many phones hanging from its branches, their screens casting reflections in the sunlight. What is the process of making it?

Season 2’s most iconic visual is a moving tree with multiple phones hanging from its branches. Jamtara has different trees and these crooks hang up after 15 to 30 calls. The police got there and they didn’t find the liar – it’s no man’s land. So even if the police wanted to convict, they would see unregistered phones with unregistered SIM cards, so they couldn’t find these people. Earlier, they made calls from their fields and homes, where their location could be tracked so they could be caught. So they invented the idea to use cell phones and then tether those phones to evade the police. Jamtara has many such trees, we need a magnificent tree that will be a bigger than life character. This shooting process is very special.

The type of crime is always evolving. What are your thoughts on the growth of specific types of scams on screen?
The type of crime series about scammers is that people are interested in scammers and how they run their scams. The point is not the crime, but the liar, because the audience finds it mysterious. They feel like magicians. So we rarely sympathize with victims. We are more interested in the person who perpetrated this scam. From Money Heist to Ocean’s 11, you’ll find yourself following the protagonists and how they pull off the heist. Viewers want to know about the mysterious process.

Jamtara season 2 is currently on OTT.

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