While quite a few films have been made on India’s independence struggle, there has been hardly any depiction of interpersonal relationships between the two countries in the period before the 1900s. Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul is one such film that talks about the warm relationship shared by Queen Victoria and Mohammad Hafiz Abdul Karim who was made her Indian secretary after being appointed as her servant in 1887. Celebrated British veteran Judi Dench plays the Empress while Ali Fazal is Abdul Karim. The trailer begins with an insight into the life of Queen Victoria who has dozed off at an elaborate dinner table. At the same time, Abdul Karim has been appointed as a servant in the palace of the Queen of England. Dench brings warmth to the role of the aging Queen who is bored of the monotony of a royal life beautifully. We see how Abdul brings in the freshness in her life by giving her a new perspective and insight into India’s culture. The sets are magnificent and transport you back to the colonial times with finesse. However, it is the chemistry between Ali and Dench that steals the show.
Victoria and Abdul’s based on the novel by Shrabani Basu. It has been written for 70 mm by Lee Hall. The screenplay is engaging and we see doses of the famous British humour. It is a lavish production and the costumes catch our eye in every frame. Dench is fabulous in the comic scenes while Ali does look like he is overwhelmed to share space with the veteran in some places. It works as the narrative calls for that kind of relationship at the initial stages. The Victorian era was considered as prudish so we have the Queen’s close aides scoffing at the close yet platonic bond between the two. There is a scene where a decked up Victoria does a dance with Abdul Karim. Viewers will have a sense of curiosity about the actual nature of their relationship.
Abdul Karim, a boy from Jhansi became a personal servant of the Empress of India and went on to become the Indian secretary. He taught Urdu to the Queen and enlightened her about Islam. They shared a close relationship that created a stir in the royal court. This film might just change Ali Fazal’s fortunes at the international stage. For starters, seeing an Indian actor star opposite the famous M of the Bond series is enough reason to see the film!
Watch the trailer here: