Always wanted to play a historical character: Shabana Azmi on her part in ‘The Empire’

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Veteran actor Shabana Azmi on Tuesday said she decided to come on board for the upcoming web series The Empire as it gave her a chance to play a historical character and a kingmaker in Aisan Daulat Begum, Babur’s grandmother and counselor in his early years.

Based on Alex Rutherford’s popular fictional account of the history, Empire of the Moghul, the multi-starrer show, which has been mounted on a big scale, also features Kunal Kapoor, Drashti Dhami, Aditya Seal and Dino Morea in key roles.

Azmi said while she loved to go back in time through her character, she had to be careful with how she wanted the part to come across in the Mitakshara Kumar-directed series.

“I always wanted to play a historical character. She is such an interesting character. You usually see a man being a kingmaker but, in this case, the woman is. That excited me about the part. I am in love with the Urdu language and I got the opportunity to talk in that language,” she said.

The 70-year-old actor, a powerhouse performer whose filmography boasts of films like Ankur, Godmother, Makdee and Neerja among many others, credited Kumar for her attention to detail, which helped Azmi to navigate the nuances of her accent and dialogues.

“The basic challenge was I should learn the dialogue and yet it should not sound like I am pontificating. There is a tendency that when you play this (kind of) character, you suddenly put on a ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ voice and you think that is the way it should be. “Because you don’t have many reference points. The accent (zabaan) and dialogue should be said in a way that you can show the ‘adaa’ (style), but you do not lose the emotion in the effort to say the dialogue. That was important for me,” she added.

The show is created by Nikkhil Advani and produced by his sister Monisha Advani and Madhu Bhojwani under Emmay Entertainment. It will start streaming on Disney+ Hotstar on August 27.

Kapoor, who plays the role of Babur in the show, said he found his character’s dilemmas intriguing. “There were two interesting things for me with this part – one was that the character was physically strong but had moments of emotional weakness. The other thing that I found interesting was, he becomes the king but he has an incredible amount of self-doubt about whether he deserves this or not,” the Rang De Basanti star said.

His character’s journey spans 25 years, with a younger actor portraying the earlier days of Babur’s life.

 “The character spans 25 years so there is younger Babur and older one. It was about making subtle changes in the two, whether it was in the physicality or the voice, but mostly it is about how the character felt about himself. The younger Babur is spontaneous and doesn’t think much, the older one has the tendency to mull over,” he added.

As part of his preparation, Kapoor said he read Rutherford’s novel and other books to understand the mindset and values of the people belonging to the era of emperors. Talking about his experience of working on the show, Kapoor, 43, said the makers have paid attention to a lot of detailing on every aspect — from designing war sequences to costumes.

“I have never been part of something that is this humongous. It is the biggest show to come out of India,” he added.

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