How The Empire bills itself on Disney + Hotstar as India’s greatest series of all time

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“Our goal is to make the greatest show India has ever seen,” said Nikkhil Advani, creator, director and executive producer of The Empire, on Tuesday at a virtual press conference for the Disney + Hotstar series, which will be released on Friday, August 27th, premieres one of the most ambitious endeavors streaming TV has attempted in India: depicting the rise and fall of the Mughal Empire. The first season alone lasted a year and a half, even during COVID-19. And should it take long enough, The Empire will look back on a two-century saga that stretches from Uzbekistan in the north to south India, from the founding days with Babur to the effective end of the kingdom with Aurangzeb. But it’s not just about the exact details like in the story.

After all, The Empire is based on the historical novel series Empire of the Moghul, written by Alex Rutherford – the collective pseudonym of the English husband-wife duo Michael and Diana Preston – and published in six volumes between 2009 and 2015.They are responsible for Rutherford’s books and the Legions of fans that they have starting with the first novel, Raiders from the North. It tells the story of a young king named Babur from the Central Asian Fergana Valley and his early battles in and around Samarkand, a large city in what is now Uzbekistan. The empire was partly filmed in Uzbekistan, with Advani describing himself as “lucky” to go where the dynasty was born.

But the Disney + Hotstar series won’t be fully tied to the book. Instead, it will distill its events and arcs, said Mitakshara Kumar, director of the empire. Kumar got her teeth out of working under Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is the only one filming historical dramas on this scale, she noted. The scope and intrigue teased in The Empire’s trailer has led some sections of the internet to draw comparisons to Game of Thrones, even though Kumar – who only saw HBO’s epic fantasy series after filming and because everyone told her – she doesn’t buy, “They have these kinds of characters, but it’s more fantasy, I don’t see the comparisons. But if you think it looks like it, I humbly accept the compliment. However, I’m very glad I didn’t see it when I was working on The Empire. “

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Speaking of characters: The empire is using an ensemble cast for its first season. Rang De Basanti alum Kunal Kapoor plays as the aforementioned Babur, whose arc spans 25 years on the show. Film legend Shabana Azmi plays his grandmother and kingmaker Aisan Daulat Begum – everyone on set was nervous about her stature, but she turned out to be a “chill guy,” said Aditya Seal (Tum Bin 2), who plays Babur’s son Humayun. Then there is Dino Morea from the 00s as the villain of the first season, Shaybani Khan, an Uzbek warrior who came into conflict with Babur. The cast is rounded off by TV series veteran Drashti Dhami as Babur’s older sister Khanzada Begum and Sahher Bambba (Pal Pal Dil Ke Pass) as Babur’s third wife and Humayun’s mother Maham Begum.

All of The Empire’s main characters credited Kumar with the love and attention to detail that she put into the Hotstar Specials series, with Dhami going so far that the director worked harder than she did on her character. “Mitakshara helped me early on, brought me to live khanzada. I grew into it every day that I was on set, ”added Dhami. Azmi liked that The Empire’s female characters are very strong and hoped for “far more visibility” for them in the industry. Morea, who always likes to think of an animal when playing a character, revealed that Kumar had given him the idea of ​​a panther. He looked at National Geographic to study how a panther moves – stealthy, agile, fast, and threatening – and hoped to incorporate some of that gait into his portrayal of Shaybani.

“Working with Nikkhil and Mitakshara is like working on two different sets,” said Kapoor. “Nikkhil has incredible empathy for his actors, but his shooting style is guerrilla, total chaos. On the other hand, Mitakshara’s set is almost like vipassanā, it’s so quiet. They are two completely different minds. “Azmi cut in and said she thinks,” That’s the difference between men and women. Men see the big picture, women see the details. ”She explained how Kumar once approached her as if she were taking notes, only to walk past her and then show an artist a detail in the background of the set. “They were a really good team together,” added Azmi. Kumar, in turn, praised Azmi for her eye – she asked her to use birds as references for costumes so that no two colors would cancel each other out.

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Mitakshara Kumar, Aditya Seal, Shabana Azmi, Dino Morea, Drashti Dhami and Kunal Kapoor at The Empire Event on Tuesday
Photo credit: Disney + Hotstar

Azmi added that she wanted to keep the tribal character of the costume and said that “if the look is right, it will help the character.” The 70-year-old native of Hyderabad took on the role of Aisan Daulat because she “always wanted to play a historical figure. She’s so interesting to be a kingmaker when they’re mostly men. All the machinations in the Empire are hers. ”Also, Azmi has a thing for Urdu, so that helped. But she also took care not to fall into the theatrical mood. For Urdu and historical dramas, Azmi said, “You automatically enter the voice of Mughal-e-Azam. Because you don’t have a lot of reference points. I had to learn dialogue, but I shouldn’t be preaching. It is important not to lose the emotions in the characters and scenes. “

Kapoor believes the writers made their job easy because the script was very detailed and the character graphics were so clear. He also attributed the “courage” to the crew and Disney + Hotstar to put on a show of this magnitude: “I’ve never been part of anything so great. They created a whole city on set, I got lost. ”What he focused on were the subtle changes between the two versions of his characters 25 years apart – and how Babur felt about himself during that period. He tried to understand the mindset of the people who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Kapoor added, “You need to understand their world, their values, and their way of thinking.” Morea repeated these words, noting that he had created playlists for different scenes to get in the mood of the moment.

Morea and Kapoor don’t share too many scenes in The Empire, Kapoor revealed, but there’s an intensity of hatred they have as characters. “This show is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” added Morea.

All episodes of the first season of The Empire will be available on Friday, August 27th on Disney + Hotstar. It will be available in Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, and Kannada.

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