I am guessing the overlap between Shahrukh fans/Netflix watchers/Tubelight watchers is very very limited. But for those of you who are familiar with all three, hopefully you (like me) are thinking “YES! That would be perfect!!!”
In 1960s rural India, a magician comes to a small town. He is mysterious and odd and a little scary. But also kindly, when he sees a developmentally disabled townsperson (Salman) who everyone is teasing, he calls him forward and gently encourages him to try to move a bottle with his mind, and when he succeeds, declares that he has psychic powers and is “special”. It is a little moment of happiness in this life and gives the townspeople more respect for him. And then the Shahrukh-Magician moves on and is never seen again, just came to town long enough to make life a little better for someone who was suffering.
I want a limited Netflix series following the Shahrukh-Magician! It’s 1960s India, he travels to mid-sized towns off the beaten path, and he gets caught up in the issues facing a particular town every episode (solves a murder mystery in one town, helps a couple elope in another, and so on). He brings in a breath of fresh air and outsider perspective to each town (this is still the 1960s so India is changing and modernizing, but towns are still isolated) and then moves on.
There also has to be an over-arching season long plot, of course. I think Shahrukh should be looking for his kidnapped son. He was a successful big city nightclub magician, all smooth in a tuxedo and stuff. But one night he came home to find his wife dead and his son gone. He found a clue that indicated a band of gypsies and, to find them, he left behind his fancy city life and changed himself into this wandering mysterious unrecognizable figure. It’s been years, but in the first episode of the series, he finally gets a clue that might bring him closer to his son. Now that he is hot on the trail, every episode keeps giving him little hints at what happened, both clues and sudden leaps of intuition based on what he sees in the towns.
And he has to have other series regular characters to travel with him, otherwise we are just seeing him in a new town with no one to talk to every week. I think a best friend/assistant, the one who has been with him since the nightclub act days, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub. And in the first episode, a young woman volunteers to be his audience assistant during an act in a small town and surprises him by flipping the trick around and doing something different. Then she introduces herself, she wants to be a magician, she learned from her great-uncle who was the man who first taught Shahrukh. She heard about Shahrukh from her uncle as the greatest student he ever had, and then she saw a little news story about a small town magic show and realized it was him. She wants to help and travel and train with Shahrukh so she can become a master. He resists letting her join, but Mohammed convinces him. And later lets her in on the secret tragedy of Shahrukh’s life. I kind of want her to be played by Saiyani Gupta, his assistant in Fan.
Over the course of the season we keep getting flashbacks that let us, the audience, learn more about the secrets of Shahrukh’s past and help Shahrukh understand the central mystery. The first episode has him flashback to the night he came home to find his wife and son gone, but ends on the big reveal that his wife was already pregnant when he met her (!!!!), it’s not his biological son.
In the flashbacks, we learn that his wife was a shy scared mysterious woman (maybe played by Aditi Rao Hydari? Or Kalki! Someone with a really striking face) who somehow knew all kinds of things about stage magic and begged him to take her on as his assistant because she really needed the work. He took pity on her and gave her a place to stay and stuff and they fell in love, even though he never fully understood who or what she was. She had her baby and he loved it and considered it his own. But she was scared, she would put odd signs on the doors and sometimes would be afraid when she saw a stranger on the street. Shahrukh is sure that it is the biological father of his son who kidnapped him and killed his wife, and that there is a reason his wife wanted to keep the baby away from him. He has been following traces of traveling gypsies who use signs similar to those his wife used. They finally catch up with the gypsies in the mid-series finale and learn the true backstory.
His wife was a “Pari”, a fairy. The gypsies found a woman running crazy in the fields, helped her and she died giving birth. A gypsy couple without children insisted on raising the child, even though they knew what it was. Her father was a magician and a trickster, her mother a fake fortune teller, that is how she learned her craft. Years later a stranger came to the caravan, a man from the city, he was kind and gentle and his wife fell in love with him (Jim Sarbh, definitely). Most people in the caravan avoided his wife, but this man was nice and promised her a life of love and goodness, so she ran off with him. After she was gone, her parents saw that man on a TV show, he was a folklore researcher talking about the “reality” of mythical creatures, and how one of the great unanswered questions is what the child of a mythical creature and a human would look like and they realized he was trying to seduce the wife all along, had come for her, in order to get her pregnant with his child.
Second half of the first series is Shahrukh and his friends trying to track down the folklorist, trying all sorts of complicated stratagems. It finally ends with a confrontation where the folklorist tries to convince them all that the wife was really a Pari, child of a demon and a human woman, that her son might have amazing powers, that Shahrukh should just walk away. But Shahrukh holds fast to his rational view, that the Gypsies found a woman dying in childbirth, driven mad by a rape (that was the “demon” she mumbled about), and raised a little girl driven slightly mad by the way she was shunned by the rest of society and then further damaged by betrayal by the one man she trusted. Shahrukh points out that he lived with her for 5 years, loved her and brought her into the world, and she was like any other woman while he was with her. It was everyone telling her she was a Pari that made her act that way, not any internal difference. The argument isn’t fully resolved, but it turns into a physical fight where Shahrukh gains the upper hand and the folklorist ends up falling to his death as he sees a flash of the dead wife, did her spirit kill him? The first season ends on a cliffhanger with Shahrukh going to the school where his son is enrolled and looking at the sea of children until he sees a face he thinks he recognizes and calling out his name, the child turns but we don’t know yet if he recognizes Shahrukh.
We open with confirmation that the child recognizes Shahrukh, it has only been 3 years, he runs to him and embraces him. But he is still sad and confused, thought that Shahrukh was dead, wants to go home to the house they used to have. Jump forward 6 months, they have all settled into new lives. Shahrukh is an obsessive stay at home father, trying to give his son a “normal” life. Saiyami is working as a magician at a big nightclub with Mohammed as her assistant. They get together for dinner once a week, but it isn’t the same, Mohammed especially keeps waxing nostalgic for their traveling days. Plus, it’s awkward with Saiyami and Shahrukh, by the end of the previous season they came close to kissing, but now Shahrukh has retreated to being a father and grieving widower and Saiyama is left pining for him.
And then Sayami is arrested! A determined police officer (Rajkummar Rao) has been working on the death of the folklorist for months, he finally found security footage that shows Sayami going to his house. His theory is that she went there to steal the notes for his book in order to use them in her stage act, was discovered, and killed the folklorist. Worst of all, the police have tied together the kidnapping of the folklorist’s son with the murder, think Sayami might be part of some kind of gang. Shahrukh bails Sayami out and takes her home and through a late night conversation, decides they have to go on the run again, so the police can’t find his son, and Sayami won’t go to prison for something she didn’t do. Naturally, Mohammed wants to come too, emotionally tells Shahrukh that he is his family. And we are back on the road!!!! This time traveling through small towns to stay one step ahead of the police. Two police officers, a good smart one who just wants to solve the mystery and bring them back to justice, and a corrupt angry one (let’s say Murli Sharma, he always plays police so well) who wants the glory and reward and doesn’t care about justice or bringing them back alive.
The danger of arrest threads through the whole season, and at some point things come to a head and Shahrukh accidentally reveals his feelings for Sayami even though he feels “wrong” about it since she is younger than him and he is still mourning his wife. Maybe Sayami is arrested by the “bad” cop and Shahrukh gets increasingly anxious about it and Mohammed keeps nudging him to admit his feelings, and then surprises himself by admitting to the “bad” cop during a tense stand off that he loves that woman and will do anything for her. But then Sayami plays it off like he was just tricking the cop so they don’t have to really talk about it. They also reunite with the gypsy band and the wife’s parents get to meet her son.
The season ends with a big shootout in which the “good” police officer switches sides and defeats the “bad” police officer once he sees that the “bad” police officer doesn’t care who he hurts. With trust established, they tell the “good” police officer the truth of everything that happened and it matches with the evidence the “good” police officer has been seeing as he followed them. He offers to help them escape, but on one condition. He can’t let a small child travel with an unmarried couple (wink wink, nudge nudge), so Shahrukh and Saiyami “have” to get married.
Happy ending, the “good” police officer fakes their deaths and they escape to keep wandering. Saiyami and Shahrukh are married by the gypsies, confirming that the wife’s parents bless this marriage and now consider Saiyami and Shahrukh as part of their family along with their grandson. And then they go off to the next small town, with the son now integrated as part of their act.
Okay Netflix, now hire a team of writers and directors to make that actual reality!