Following last year’s ‘Secrets of Sinauli: Discovery of the Century,’ Manoj Bajpayee reunites with Neeraj Pandey for ‘Secrets of the Kohinoor’—the second installment of the discovery+ ‘Secrets’ franchise. Directed by Raghav Jairath, the docuseries features interviews of historians, diplomats, authors, diamond experts, etc., such as Irfan Habib, Navtej Sarna, Shashi Tharoor, Danielle Kinsey, Miles Taylor, Manvendra Kumar Pundhir, J Sai Deepak, and Polisher Pauline Willemse, among others. Bajpayee yet again serves as the story’s narrator.
Koh-i-Noor, or Kohinoor, is a Persian word which translates to ‘Mountain of Light’. When Nadir Shah, the Afsharid Shah of Persia, looted the famous stone from the treasury of the Mughal Empire, he is said to have exclaimed, ‘Koh-i-Noor’ on seeing it for the first time. It is believed that no one can buy Kohinoor as its value is enormously high. That makes it easily the most precious and sought-after jewel on the planet Earth, as evident from the following claim, “If a strong man were to throw four stones – one north, one south, one east, one west, and a fifth stone up into the air – and if the space between them were to be filled with gold, all would not equal the value of the Koh-i-Noor.” Evidently, kohinoor can change hands only in two ways. It can either be obtained by force or its ownership can be transferred if it’s obtained in the form of a gift. And that’s how the stone has been passed from one hand to another over the course of history.
For the longest time, Kohinoor, one of the most beautiful and largest cut diamonds in the world, has been shrouded in mysteries and secrets. The discovery+ docuseries ‘Secrets of the Kohinoor’ retraces the story and controversies around what is perhaps India’s most prized possession that was wrongfully snatched away from its rightful heir during the British rule. The two-part series also examines the very many questions about its origins, ever changing ownership, weight and size, and appearance and luminosity, among other things. The Kohinoor is currently kept at the Tower of London as part of the British Crown Jewels. The diamond is currently set in the crown of the Queen Mother.
The scope of the docuseries is tremendous as it takes us through our rich history, uncovering the stories of multiple rulers and their insatiable desire for the Kohinoor, which led to destructive and avoidable wars, triggered tantalising mind games, and empowered rulers and ruined dynasties. In doing so, it also explores fascinating stories of powerful rulers whose lives were intertwined with the diamond. On one hand, we have someone like the Mughal Emperor Babur, who manages to keep himself away from Kohinoor. On the other hand, we have Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who just can’t keep Kohinoor away from his sight. We also come across those kings and queens who managed to possess it briefly, only to lose it eventually. There are also those who lost everything but still couldn’t possess it.
‘Secrets of the Kohinoor’ is a well-made documentary. It’s heartening to see one of the country’s leading filmmakers like Neeraj Pandey so heavily invested in stories such as Sinauli and Kohinoor. And Major Bajpayee is just the perfect narrator and discovery+ is just the ideal platform for something like this. One wishes the series would have used live action re-enactments instead of animations. A somewhat similar series, ‘Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan,’ which debuted on Netflix last year, used a combination of graphic re-enactments, voiceover narration, and historian interviews to devastating effect in the epic retelling of the bloodiest period in Japanese feudal history. ‘Secrets of the Kohinoor’ had a great opportunity to achieve something similar, but unfortunately, the budgetary constraints once again got in the way, depriving us of something truly wonderful.