The Empire Review Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars (three and a half stars)
Star cast: Kunal Kapoor, Dino Morea, Shabana Azmi, Drashti Dhami, Aditya Seal, Rahul Dev, Imaad Shah, Sahher Bambba and ensemble.
Creator: Nikkhil Advani
Director: Mitakshara Kumar
Transmission in: Disney Plus Hotstar
The Empire Review: What is it about?
Adapted from the book Empire Of The Moghul: Raiders From The North by Alex Rutherford, The Empire climbs the journey of the Mughal emperor, Babur, from the age of 14 to 47 when he died (dare you call it a spoiler, this is literally a story chapter seventh grade). The show talks about the ups and downs of Babur’s life in this part of fiction, partly inspired by a real-life tale. We find it in war where the swords are drenched in blood and one inside the palace where the mind is the weapon. The ‘Game of Thrones’ in the midst of all this takes center stage and relationships are put to the test.
The Empire Review: What Works:
If you are a history buff, you should know that Babur’s life is an open book. The Mughal emperor was known for many things that literally reflected his life in Baburnama (his autobiography). Even the fact that he was bis * xual and was attracted to a boy he saw in the market at the age of 17. Taking creative liberties for film enhancement, The Empire builds on this very story and decides to take you inside. the palace more than the wars it fought.
In the supremely capable hands of the writer Bhavani Iyer, who adapts Alex Rutherford’s fictional account of Babur’s life, The Empire becomes more than just a costume drama. This is not the first time someone has tried to replicate the Mughal story on screen and invest large amounts of cash. But most of them, except for the Sanjay Leela Bhansali universe, end up becoming just costume dramas. Also, add to that the new age obsession with demonizing the Mughals to show how peace was never a word they were taught.
This is where Bhavani Iyer’s talent contributes the most. These are people who have led normal lives and have had a human side. None of them are barbaric and not all of them speak continuously in high-pitched voices. Enmity is never the fodder Iyer prioritizes. The writing featuring multiple characters ensures that it gives everyone layers to justify their screen presence.
To not reveal much, much of The Empire is the internal catharsis that Babur went through. Of course, he was great at war, but a war was lurking in his family and that was the hardest he ever fought. The writing analyzes his life through the perspective of his sister Khanzada (Drashti Dhami). Of course, the shadow of Sanjay Leela Bhansali can be seen everywhere (in a good way). The fact that Mitakshara Kumar appears to be inspired by his work is evident in his frames. I live for the wide-angle shots imagined by her and captured by Nigam Bomzan and Yiannis Manolopoulos.
Also, this is a kind of the Avengers gathered in the Bhansali universe. Mitakshara has been an AD in Padmaavat and Bajirao Mastani. Bhavani Iyer has written Black and Guzaarish with filmmaker AM Turaz, who is credited with dialogue and lyrics for The Empire, and has worked closely with SLB. And songwriter and singer Shail Hada is a longtime confidant of the maverick filmmaker. So you see why the environment feels too familiar.
I can’t stop without giving credit to the art department doing an impeccably beautiful job of creating this universe to create a separate piece of art. The set pieces don’t seem made for one day. Some are even built-in and completely turned off. Clothing does not make actors appear to have an out-of-body experience. Everything is appropriate for the era and makes sure it fits the cinematic language in which each frame is busy speaking.
The Empire Review: Star Performance
Of course, there are Shabana Azmi, Kunal Kapoor, Dino Morea, who have done fabulous work, but I would like to talk about the one that surprised me the most. Drashti Dhami, an actress who can speak with wide eyes, is a rare trait only found in some. She becomes Khanzada, the intelligent girl who has to face the difficulties that life goes through. She is not a damsel but a savior who gives Babur his purpose and motivation.
Shabana Azmi becomes Esan Da Walat, who is technically the reason everything happens. My experience is not enough to judge an actor of Azmi’s stature and she only leaves me asking for more in each frame. His attitude, the control over each frame he is in remains the same as what I saw in Mandi (a movie that made me fall in love with his craft)
Kunal Kapoor as Babur is a safe choice. His demeanor does half the work and the actor manages to fill the remaining half with his performance. He manages to bring the pain to his face gradually, but in the opening, it seems like he’s still heating up. Dino Morea has one of his best characters yet. Of course, there are traces of Ranveer Singh’s Allaudin Khilji everywhere. The way he behaves, his walk, applauds him like crazy. But Morea manages not to make it look caricatured to the point where embarrassment kicks in.
Imaad Shah is Imaad Shah and he somehow plays his characters just as easily, but he makes them look different. Aditya Seal, in her brief role, gets a part where she finally proves she knows something about the business she’s in. The ending seems to hint at a season 2 and that Seal will become the protagonist. Well, a great responsibility is on the way.
The Empire Review: What Doesn’t Work:
Definitely the rhythm. What starts out as a slow boiling broth, you suddenly see a burning concentration and the broth begins to pour out. The years go by so fast that at one point I had to rewind to see that we are already 18 years ahead. Also, while we’re at it, why isn’t Dino Morea getting old? He was the same when Babur was 14, and even more nervous and attractive when Babur was around 30.
In a brief period, Babur strays from his purpose and finds comfort in alcohol. The period is its true undoing, but the show abruptly acknowledges it. Not enough to absorb how much he was affected, so the effect of his ascent was diluted.
While the Bhansali vibe has come to life outside of his universe for the first time, the poetry remains intact with him. There is everything in the painting of The Empire, but there is not enough poetry all the time. The only scene that turned out to be the most poetic was when Khanzada makes a shocking revelation to Shaibani Khan in his final moments – shivers! You will see.
There is even a scene similar to Padmaavat’s first meeting with Raghav Chaitanya and Padmaavati. That becomes too much.
The Empire Review: The Last Word
The Empire is a big step in creating extravagant shows for India OTT. There’s everything a vintage drama lover craves (it’s me). Enter and witness the saga that talks about love, war and betrayal. But as I always say about shows / movies with creative freedoms, watch it with the word “fiction” in your mind. It is not intended to educate you.
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