ON A BRIGHT AFTERNOON IN MID APRIL, on the fifth floor of the Balaji Telefilms building in Mumbai, Rajesh Joshi, the most influential soap opera writer in the country, sat at his desk scratching his brow. His hair was a mess. Just above his chair, a small shrine jutted out from the wall, in which little idols of Hindu gods sat draped in sequined clothes. Around the desk sat three other writers, waiting for him to speak. Joshi stared at his notes.
The meeting had been called to discuss the plot of the third episode of a new serial by the production house run by Ekta Kapoor. It would be called Kawach, meaning “armour,” and would soon air on the channel Colors TV. Kawach would replace Naagin, also a Joshi-Balaji product, which popularised a formula that blended supernatural elements into the saas-bahu genre, and remains the most popular show on Indian television. Kawach, which Balaji hoped would be its new blockbuster, would have everything that Naagin had, and more: love, seduction, black magic, ghosts and even a bit of skin on show.
It would be about a rich Rajput family, the Bundelas, who are threatened by the reappearance of an old nemesis: Manjulika, an evil witch, usually dressed in strapless blouses and given to breaking into dance at regular intervals. In the first two episodes, the witch befriends the show’s hero, Rajbir Bundela, by casting a spell on him, and comes to stay with the family, in disguise. Rajbir, who’s supposed to get married in two days, starts mistreating his fiancé—Paridhi, the show’s female lead—endangering their relationship. Joshi was trying to decide what would happen next.