Long time ago, in a country far, far away
Bollywood just doesn’t do epics well. But then again, who needs Bollywood in the age of HBO. Why not an epic TV series?
No, not the Great Epic —that was done a quarter century ago. And it has been ripped off shamelessly, and unsuccessfully, by Bollywood already. Instead of yet another attempt at that, let’s flesh out an old idea.
We want something with: a battle around a fortress; a royal scandal involving a famous diamond; complicated love stories; Sufis, nautch girls, elephants, snakes, jadu-tona, tantriks and tigers; and a whodunnit.
Let’s see if we can weave a story out of these.
In the first chapter, we will meet Amar —an out of job, out of luck young man, with a discernible nobility lineage. He will seek employment in the imperial army.
We will see the army in great detail —formations, training, campaign, set piece stuff.
We will see an assault on a fortress. We will see wholesale massacre and carnage.
As the chapter ends, we will see a damsel, Madhuri, escape with a diamond, assisted by a mysterious man.
The second chapter will be backstories.
Amar: some fortress in Bundelkhand, an evil uncle, a conniving mother, a murdered father —oh-so-very-Hamlet-you-say, sure-why-not?
Madhuri: a princess from Vijayanagara sold to slavery in her childhood as that empire dissolved, becoming a temple dancer.
The third chapter will be in the Golden Fort, which is to be visited by the young Timurid Shah. Amar, now a special agent in the imperial forces, will be sent ahead of the visit.
There will be an assassination attempt on the king. A stranger will provide intelligence pointing to nefarious forces from across the sea.
Amar will be sent to Serendib to investigate.
In chapter four, Amar will be hunting the assassin in Serendib.
He will also meet Akbar —the person who helped Madhuri escape in chapter one —who will have just travelled from Tibet, in search of amrtakundya — the nectar of life.
Amar’s investigation will prove fruitless and he will be recalled to the capital.
Chapters five and six will be in the imperial cities of Agra and Lahore, with multiple threads.
In an atmosphere of intrigue and jealousy, involving queens, courtiers, noblemen, and not-so-noble men and women, we will meet Zeenat (formerly known as Madhuri) —a powerful lady of the night with considerable talent and skills of honourable and dishonourable persuasions.
We will have a scandal involving the diamond that was smuggled out of the fortress in chapter one.
Amar will be asked to investigate, and retrieve, items from Zeenat that could compromise the Empress Jodha Bai —yes, more than a shade of A scandal in Bavaria here.
Meanwhile, there will be jostling among the generals about the command of the coming high profile mission to the east.
A prince will be born, and a pauper will die —or will it be other way around?
Zeenat will disappear.
Chapters seven and eight will the imperial army’s march down the Ganges.
Amar, now a senior officer under Man Singh, will have his hands full with general command responsibilities as well as ambushes and sabotage.
As the journey progresses, it will become apparent that Isa Khan, the powerful warlord of Bhati, is behind the shenanigans confronting Amar.
Further east the army travels, they will hear stories about Khawaja’s settlement beyond the land where the Ganges meets the sea, the golden land where a free man can reap the rewards of an honest day’s work.
Chapters nine, ten and eleven will be in Bhati.
Isa Khan will prevail over the imperial forces, and Amar will be taken prisoner to Sonargaon. He will be rescued by Nargis (formerly Zeenat formerly Madhuri), an influential businesswoman and banker to the local chiefs.
The two will escape Sonargaon, but will be lost in the forest, where they will be confronted by tigers, crocodiles, and forest dwelling tantriks.
They will be rescued by Akbar, now known as Khawaja, leader of a settlement of free farmers in a fertile island off the Chittagong coast.
The island, however, will be under threat from harmads. Amar will offer imperial protection. Akbar will initially refuse, fearing the loss of freedom any imperial entanglement will have. But reluctantly, he will concede.
Amar will return to the imperial camp to seek assistance. He will find that Isa Khan and Man Singh are in a truce to combine forces against the Firangis, whose agent Anthony is the double agent who had caused much grief in the previous chapters. Amar will kill Anthony.
Chapter twelve —the climactic battle, where the Firangi harmad will be vanquished. But this will come at a price —Amar and Akbar will be dead.
We will see Madhuri-Zeenat-Nargis standing by the ocean as the curtain drops.