History repeats itself, or so they say! Even though Bollywood has come up with several screen adaptations of the Mughal rule in India at various intervals, one is never quite tired to see a fresh take once in a while. The Empire, which is streaming on Disney+Hotstar, is another valiant attempt at the retelling of Mughal rule in the Indian sub-continent.
Armed with eight hour-long episodes, season one of the show is expected to be set in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, following Babur’s early struggles in and around Samarkand. This was before he looked south-east towards Kabul and the Delhi Sultanate.
At 70 years, veteran actor Shabana Azmi plays the kingmaker and Babur’s grandmother, Aisan Daulat Begum. Begum is said to have served as a counsellor to Babur since he was 12 years old and ascended to the throne. When asked why she decided to take up the project Azmi said, “I liked how strong a character Aisan was. It also gave me ample scope to speak in Urdu, a language I have always wanted to speak on screen.”
The series is inspired from the book Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North by Alex Rutherford. It narrates the tale of a young king, who is faced with a seemingly impossible challenge as rampaging armies and brutal enemies threaten his destiny, throne and even survival.
“The sheer scale in which the show has been shot is a first for the Indian OTT audience. For many years, I have been fascinated by the imperial lives from the pages of history. We have seen and read many stories but the ones that I love the most are where women play strategic roles. This is in keeping with my character in The Empire. She is fierce, confident and knows what she wants. I hope the audience enjoys watching her as much as I enjoyed playing her,” Azmi reflected.
Talking about her character, Azmi says, “In most shows you will see the man is a kingmaker. But here it was a woman, which is exciting for me as an actor. The manner in which attention has been paid to detailing in narration is quite a task. Both Nikkhil [Advani] and Mitakshara [Kumar] have great eye for detail. Every frame is important in a period drama and that has been brought out very nicely by the directors.”
Batla House director Nikkhil Advani is on board as creator, director, and executive producer with Mitakshara Kumar — associate director on Sanjay Leela Bhansali movies such as Padmaavat and Bajirao Mastani — helming several episodes too. Bhavani Iyer serves as the head writer with lyricist A M Turaz writing the dialogues. It has been co-produced by Madhu Bhojwani of Emmay Entertainment.
The actor also seems rather excited to set foot on a new medium. She believes OTT works in a different manner than TV or film theatres and therefore the challenge is greater for the makers to keep them hooked. “Initially, there were two challenges which came my way. People on OTT don’t watch content the way one would usually watch a two-hour film, with full concentration. Here, people consume content in different ways, with the facility to switch off if the story of the show or film doesn’t appeal to them. As an actor, that challenge attracted me. OTT will bring with it the possibilities of getting more challenging roles, characters that don’t depend on gender or age but only on stories. If content is the king, that will always be a huge advantage for actors,” she pointed out.
When asked to share her take on the OTT, she said, “Digital platforms have changed the viewing habits of the audience. As artistes, one has to make the most of the interesting projects they are offered on OTT.”
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