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

Shabana Azmi, a veteran actor, said on Tuesday that she chose to join the cast of the new web series The Empire because it would allow her to portray a historical figure and a kingmaker in Aisan Daulat Begum, Babur’s grandmother and advisor in his early years.

The multi-starrer production, which has been constructed on a large scale and is based on Alex Rutherford’s popular fictional version of history, Empire of the Moghul, also stars Kunal Kapoor, Drashti Dhami, Aditya Seal, and Dino Morea in prominent parts.

While Azmi enjoyed traveling back in time through her character, she noted she had to be careful about how she wanted the role to be portrayed 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, whose career includes Ankur, Godmother, Makdee, and Neerja, among others, praised Kumar for her meticulous attention to detail, which helped Azmi traverse the subtleties of her accent and lines.

Nikkhil Advani developed the program, which is produced by his sister Monisha Advani and Madhu Bhojwani under the Emmay Entertainment banner. On August 27, it will be available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar.

Kapoor, who portrays Babur in the program, said he was intrigued by his character’s difficulties. “This part had two intriguing aspects for me: one, the character was physically powerful yet had periods of emotional vulnerability. Another thing I found intriguing was that he becomes king, but he has a great deal of self-doubt about whether or not he deserves it,” he said.

His character’s journey stretches over 25 years, with a younger actor representing Babur’s early years.

“The character spans 25 years so there is a younger Babur and an 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.

Kapoor said he studied Rutherford’s work and other novels as part of his preparation to have a better understanding of the attitude and morals of people during the emperor’s reign. When asked about his experience working on the program, Kapoor, 43, said the creators paid close attention to every detail, from the combat sequences to the 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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