Childhood friends Sunny and Firoz have grown up poor, eating buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner and learnt the value of money when very very young. Sunny knows how to draw and Firoz knows how to sell those drawings. They have been rescued by Sunny’s grandfather who runs a barely alive tabloid paper called Kranti.
While other kids played, Sunny and Firoz learn to sell grandpa’s idealistic tabloid paper which no one buys. And they grow up knowing the value of money with a simple: why order two colas when you can share?
Being ingenious with money
B-schools teach a course in being ingenious i.e., being smart when you are short of resources. In street terms, a hustle. Bill Gates may have said that he likes to put tough problems to lazy people because they will solve the problems faster than diligent folk.
Sunny and Firoz idly look at people walking by and guess the value of their handbags, shoes, clothes and even pet dogs. As Sunny says, ‘Jab mein paisa nahi hota hai tab har jagah paisa hi paisa dikhta hai.’ (when you don’t have a penny in your pocket, you begin to see money everywhere).
Sunny makes copies of famous paintings and sells them on the curbside. He even sells his original painting by saying it’s a copy of a famous foreign artist. When a customer asks, ‘Will this Van Gogh copy look good in my home?’ Sunny answers dryly, ‘Agar aapki aukaat hai apne ghar mein sau karod ki painting lagane ki phir original lagegi…’ shrugging his shoulders to add that it’s a darned good copy…
Importance of savings
Barring those who stuff their savings in pillowcases, most of us put everything in a ‘savings’ account. It really stumped me when little Sunny and Firoz said, ‘Paisa bachake koi ameer bana hai kya?’
But they’re trying. They calculate that they’d need 109.75 years to become a billionaire, saving 100… No, 250 rupees a day.
Money remains on top of mind when Sunny’s rich girlfriend chooses only to cuddle in her car in the parking lot, but as Firoz admonishes him that she’s never going to introduce you to her friends. Even as the girl invites Sunny to a New Year’s party, Sunny and Firoz are insulted at the nightclub because the tickets to the party cost 27k per couple.
Sunny knows that the girl whose friend has come to pick her up in an Audi that costs a crore is never going to party with him and his friends on the terrace…
Noose of loan EMIs tightens on middle class
Sunny and Firoz spend the night on the terrace, ruminating about how an employee at the clob reminded them that if they did not have any money, they had no ‘ijjat’.
The writers of the show said it best: ‘We cannot afford respect’, Sunny says, ‘All our lives we pay taxes, save money, use the credit card to pay for everyday expenses, take out loans, then to pay interest on those loans, we take another loan. When you think about it, all our life is over just paying off those loans.’
Firoze laughs as Sunny continues, ‘Sabse pehle kaam milne ke liye education loans.' When you get a job because you got an education you need to commute to work, so you take a motorbike loan, if you get a promotion you will get a car loan. And the worst of them all, wedding loan. Shaadi nahi chalti lekin loan chalte rehta hai. And when you are married, the god of all loans is the home loan. You will be thrown into the streets by the time you try to pay off that loan. And if you have kids, the loans you take for them, education loan, this loan and that loan. By that time you get a heart attack and die.
Then the insurance guys show up… to tell your widow that seven years ago you defaulted on that one payment so your insurance was cancelled and you won’t get paid… that’s why babies pop out bawling because they know that life is effed…
The home truths hit me hard. How we struggle to pay EMIs on the car, the home, an education loan, sudden expenses during wedding seasons and yes, illnesses.
Medical insurance: Not optional any more
Sunny’s grandpa, simply called Nanu, is played by yesteryear’s star Amol Palekar. In the show we see that Nanu is suffering from dementia and will need surgery. The hospital staff asks Yasir chachu and Sunny if grandpa has health insurance. Sunny shakes his head in regret.
Health insurance is so important to get a foot in the door for surgeries. If not all, insurance pays part of the expenses that happen suddenly. It’s a good thing to have. In fact, with so many options available to us, we should see which health insurance suits us best.
Loans: Not meant to be defaulted
Before Nanu’s health scare can be taken care of, Sunny and Firoz have to rack their brains and come up with the money to repay the loans Nanu has taken from Ratan Lal and Associates who have suddenly thrown an ultimatum: return all the money within a month, or else they will have to lose the beloved press where they print the Kranti newspaper.
Nanu calls on people who owe him money, but gets no help. Sunny and Firoze try to reason with the moneylender (who seems to have lots of cash) but he doesn’t relent. Moneylenders tend to withdraw their loan whenever it suits them, and if you have taken a loan from them, you lose everything. Nanu’s newspaper, his press is his life’s work. Losing that would mean job loss for the men who have worked there all their lives…
Want big bucks? Opt for a legal route
Sunny and Firoz are at the end of their tether and choose an illegal way to get out of the loan situation. The logic is impeccable: We need money we cannot get in the time we have, Sunny is good at art and Firoze with printing. Instead of painting copies of famous paintings, why don’t we just print money?
They don’t understand the economic implications of simply printing money, and the counterfeit currency investigation team led by the South superstar Vijay Sethupathi will chase them both. But the duo is desperate to save their grandfather’s press. Sunny’s artistry pushes them down a path of people who deal in counterfeit currency.
And the big bad wolf of that world is Mansoor Dalal (played by KK Menon) who treats them well. They not only pay off the loans on the printing press but also are able to buy two sea-facing apartments, better clothes and perhaps the girl too…
Despite everything we feel bad for the two lads who get embroiled into a world of crime that they unwittingly entered just to get the better of a system which according to Sunny, has been created by rich folk so the middle class is forever in the vicious cycle of loans and repayments. ‘Hum log middle class nahi middle finger class hain’, Sunny says. The odds are always stacked against the helpless middle class.
Paying taxes: Even if indirectly
Nanu’s dementia means that someone needs to look after him. When he gets lost, Sunny and Firoze come to the police station to lodge a missing person’s complaint. When the cop is rude to them, Sunny yells at the cop: We pay taxes too! And our taxes pay your salary!
Of course the cop puts them in a lock up. Firozs asks angrily, ‘When did you ever pay taxes?’
Sunny says, ‘When you go to the shack and buy beer, you’re paying taxes. When you buy anything from the corner shop, you pay taxes…’
That’s true, isn’t it? Why does the common man suffer so much to be heard from public servants? Shouldn’t the cops, the corporators, the government officers who are getting paid out of the taxes we pay, simply do their job and not make us feel obligated?
Spotting fake currency
There’s another loan that Sunny needs to repay. He’s indebted to Mansoor bhai who pulls strings to get Nanu the much needed surgery. Where Sunny couldn’t even get an appointment with the doctor for months, Mansoor manages to pay the doctor and puts Sunny forever under his thumb. Sunny and Firoze want to get out of the counterfeit business but they cannot. The team led by Vijay Sethupathi does a stellar job by creating a smart machine, an app that will help the common folk not feel victimised when they are handed a fake note.
The Reserve Bank Of India has guidelines, and an easy system to report fake notes. But people don’t report counterfeit currency out of this overwhelming sense of guilt for having been duped, or because they think they will be ridiculed or think it will be too much of a pain to report a fraud and that they will have to follow some tiresome tedious process.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication. She can be reached on Twitter at @manishalakhe.