When my kids were around four-five years old, they saw the Kohinoor in the Tower of London for the first time and their immediate reaction was, ‘Yeh humse churaya hai ’ (They stole this from us) reflecting perceptions set in school,” says filmmaker Bobby Bedi, who has joined hands with Jay Galla of Amara Raja Media & Entertainment and Rahul Aggarwal of Star Entertainment to produce a web series on what is undoubtedly the world’s most famous diamond. Titled The Diamond, the series is currently being developed by British actor-writer, Charlie Higson, known for the BAFTA-winning The Fast Show, Jekyll and Hyde and Young Bond, and Farrukh Dhondy, who has penned Skates, Tandoori Nights and Red Mercury. British film and TV director Colin Teague who has Doctor Who and its spinoff, Torchwood, Being Human and The White Queen in his repertoire, will be helming it.
The Kohinoor has a long history going by what we have read. It glittered atop Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne, in the head of the gemstone peacock, till Persian ruler Nadar Shah who invaded Delhi in 1739, took the Peacock Throne among other riches he’d plundered, back with him, wearing the Timur Diamond and the Kohinoor in his arm bands.
The diamond is said to have remained in Central Asia, what is now Afghanistan, for 70 years, coming into the hands of Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh in 1813. After his death in 1839, when a 10-year-old boy, Duleep Singh, was in the line of accession, the British imprisoned his mother, Rani Jindan, and forced Duleep to sign a legal document giving away the Kohinoor and all claims to the throne. From then, it remained in the possession of the British monarch, Queen Victoria, who wore it as a broach, to become the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels.
The series, which will be shot primarily in India and the UK, will trace this journey through a fictional story of attempted robbery. “We wanted to make something truly international but with its roots in India, and what better subject than the Kohinoor, which is a national obsession. It also seems relevant at a time when valuable and historic artifacts, some spoils of war, are being restored to their home countries. Our heist thriller will weave facts, myths, legends and yes, the curse which forms the backbone of our plot, around the diamond. It will likely be spread over eight episodes,” informs Bedi from Dalhousie. He has already started talking to streaming platforms and once one is on board, hopes to roll with the series by early next year.
Meanwhile, he is putting the finishing touches to another series, Sabka Sai. “I am documenting the entire life of Shirdi’s Sai Baba as a drama. What makes him such an interesting subject for me is that he preached spirituality rather than religion,” says Bedi. “We shot during the pandemic in the Vidharbha region, locking everyone into 25 acres near Bhor and exercising all caution.”
There are also plans for another web series, this one taking forward Bedi’s 1994 film, Bandit Queen. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, it won the National Award, premiered at Cannes and was India’s entry for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language category. A low-caste girl from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh, Phoolan was married at 11 in exchange for a cow, gangraped by high caste outlaws at 18, returned to the village as a dacoit to avenge her humiliation, gunning down 22 in one of the biggest bloodbaths.
She surrendered in 1983 after all her demands were met. With 48 criminal charges against her, she spent 11 years in jail. She was released in 1994, all charges withdrawn, and two years later, she contested elections from Mirzapur as a Samajwadi Party candidate. She was twice elected to parliament and was a sitting MP when she was shot dead on July 25, 2001, by three masked gunmen outside her official Delhi residence. One of them, Sher Singh Rana, eventually surrendered, saying he had assassinated her as revenge for the Behmal massacre. A decade has passed, but the legend of the ‘Bandit Queen’ survives.
“It’s a fascinating journey of a girl who had never seen a town till she surrendered, yet held her own. My friend, Shekhar Kapur, did a fantastic job, but one-and-a-half hours is too short a time to tell the story of a woman like Phoolan, a web series will give us more time,” reasons Bedi. So, who will take over from Seema Biswas as the new Phoolan Devi? “You’ll know when the time is right,” he signs off, leaving you with another mystery to solve.