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The Empire Review: It Strikes Blank!



The Empire

The Empire(Disney-Hostar, 8 Episodes)

Mitakshara Kumar
Created By
Nikkhil Advani
Bhavani Iyer,Kausar Munir
Shabana Azmi,Kunal Kapoor,Dino Morea
The story of a king battling against enemies, fate, family, death and even himself, in search of his kingdom.
Rating: **

The Empire Review: By the time good old  Babur reached India  with his invasive  impulses, I was exhausted beyond  belief.  The Empire(earlier titled The Moghuls and  based on Alex Rutherford’s Empire Of  The  Moghuls) is  an extremely taxing watch. It  moves at a brisk enough  pace but  lacks grace. It  doesn’t quite  follow the  etiquettes  and rules of  a decent journey. Often the  pace slackens. And sometimes scenes just swish by  in a rush, as  if  the  editors(Sagar Manik, Atanu Mukherjee)  were being briefed  to get on  with the show(will you?!) .

The attempts to humanize the show’s villain Shaybani(Dino Morea) are specially  disastrous. We get quick flashes ,as though the details were  too gruesome, from Shaybani’s   childhood where he  was  apparently  branded on his cheek  and raped by a gentleman who  looks at  the poor boy  as though he were a  chicken leg .We are supposed to  believe that this is  reason enough for Shaybani  to plunder loot maul  ravage and, yes, rape thousands and  to  tell Babur the  king of Samarkhand to leave his  sister behind and vacate  his  kingdom.Babur  obliges. And then  spends time  flogging himself  in  repentance while his  grandmother watches from a  safe distance.

If this  part  of  the narration of The Empire reminds  you  of Sanjay Leela  Bhansali’s  Padmaavat then the  resemblances are not at all  coincidental. The  director Mitakshara  Kumar has  assisted  Bhansali  . The Empire has Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat written all over  its frames. To her credit  the  director does have a flair for the epic. The battle scenes are diligently mounted and  executed with an expansive elan.

But  the   director’s vision is let down by the  cornucopia  of  corny  courtly  conspiracies  . They may be  true(though I   doubt  that Humayun’s Choti Ammi entered his  bedroom and  touched him inappropriately, as  the  series shows). The way  the courtly   intrigue  exposes itself in the  long and winding narrative, is not only  unbelievable it  lacks the  epic credibility of  Bhansali’s cinema.(We are  not even going into  The Game Of Thrones).

  The  other major problem  , and perhaps the biggest  hurdle to its  cogency,  is  Kunal  Kapoor as Babur in The Empire . Since this is  Babur’s  story, the  plot needed  an actor with an imposing implosive presence. I am afraid flaring nostrils just won’t do. Kapoor comes  across as weak and  not only because history  often caught him on  the wrong foot. His troubled relationship with his  grandmother Aisan Daulat Beghum is fuelled  by Shabana Azmi’s stately presence in The Empire . But Babur’s  all-crucial  relationship with his sister falls flat because both the  actors portraying the relationship  fail to  rise to the occasion.

 As for  Dino Morea as  Shaybani, he  compares  very poorly with Ranveer Singh’s Allauddin  Khilji. The latter  was consistently evil, as he was  meant to be. Dino’s Shaybani goes from marauder  to loverboy,  to putty  in Babur’s sister’s hand. She, the sister  Khanzada  Beghum who is held captive  by  Shaybai  suffers  from the Stockholm syndrome long before Stockholm existed. Visionaries, I tell you!

In one  very  pointed  homage  to Bhansali,  Khanzada Beghum unfurls reams  of  red  velvet cloth from her belly and  lets it drift towards Shaybani  who looks a little  taken aback.

Even more problematic is Babur’s  ambiguous  relationship with his best friend Qasim(Imaad Shah) . They are obviously attracted to each other. But their  mutual passion is  squandered in  battles far more extraneous and  decisive.

At  the end  of this arduous excursion  into the Moghuls invasive  arrogance  I was left with many  unanswered  questions: why get an impersonator  to do a  Bhansali? Why  are good actors like  Rahul Dev and Aditya Seal so underused? Why does  the  series repeatedly  invoke the grandeur of Bhansali. But not his grace  and  vision?  Why doesn’t  Shabana Azmi’s Nanijaan  t have one grey hair on her head?

Now that’s a performance to  ‘dye’  for.

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