The Empire review: Riveting book comes alive on screen

The Empire review: Riveting book comes alive on screen

Dino Morea, Drashti Dhami and Kunal Kapoor in 'The Empire'.

Name: The Empire

Hindi (Disney+ Hotstar) 

Created by: Nikkhil Advani 

Director: Mitakshara Kumar 

Cast: Kunal Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Dino Morea, Drashti Dhami, Rahul Dev, Aditya Seal


There is a classic debate over books and movies— which is better? And in the case of The Empire', the scales tip in favour of the book.

This conclusion is only for those who have read Alex Rutherford's riveting book 'The Moghul Empire: Raiders from the North', on which the series is based. If you haven't read the book, the series is intriguing and offers a new perspective on the first Moghul emperor, Babur.

Although the film is about Babur, Shabana Azmi as Esan Dawlat, Babur's maternal grandmother, rules the screen with her presence. And it is a challenge for others to match up to her— no kidding when you have a bag full of National Awards.

Some visuals are dramatic and stunning such as the reveal by Khanzada and the quintessential blue courtyard of Samarkhand. And the scale of production is impressive but at certain places, the CGI feels off place and unnecessary.

Though Kunal Kapoor as Babur does justice to the character, there is something amiss— the king has his powers but can do so little. It is probably because Babur of 'The Empire' unlike the boy-king of Ferghana in Rutherford's book, has no character development; he doesn't shine.

The Babur in the book comes to the fore after his father's death; tests his luck with Samarkhand, goes through harrowing times playing a cat and mouse game with Shaibani Khan, gets lucky with Kabul and experiences many different things in his battles for Hindustan. In each stage, he shows a different side. 

The series has some elements of the books that need more explanation, such as Babur entering Timur's resting place after capturing Samarkand. The series shows the place but makes no mention of it.

Babur encountering the Indus, him being intrigued by Hindustan, the various traditions of the mountain tribes and the significance of elephants in the Lodhi army and small details like Kamran's green eyes— all these are missing in the series. 

The writers of the series have strayed away from the book a bit, including Shaibani Khan's and Wazir Khan's deaths; Esan Dawlat's predicament and the story behind Humayun's poisoning.

Speaking about Shaibani Khan, the series moulds him into the fashion of Ranveer Singh's Allauddin Khilji. It won't be wrong to say that if there are any medieval-period dramas in the future, Ranveer has set the standard to play the maniacal bad guy— another example that has followed Ranveer is Saif Ali Khan as Udaybhan in 'Tanhaji' (2020).

When one talks about Babur, his "companion" cannot be missed. The book calls him Baburi and the series Qasim. While the book has strictly kept the relationship between the two men to friendship, the series takes a step further with Qasim professing his love but Babur wanting it buried— nothing is said explicitly, which is appreciated since we don't know what exactly happened centuries ago. This again mirrors 'Padmaavat' (2018), where Malik Kafur is head over heels for Allauddin but the latter doesn't want to take things further.

An amazing thing about the book is the way it transitions between the emperors. The protagonist of the current book fades into the wings as he approaches his end, giving space to the one who will be the subject of the next.

Books enjoy the shifting between personal and omnipresent views— which again is a challenge for a visual medium to emulate. And it is here where the cinematographers and scriptwriters become important. 'The Empire' has more seasons to cover and hope they come out and surprise the viewers.

Babur had transitioned between two completely different places, writing his version of his story. As viewers and readers, we must read and see Babur in his times. Today, each side claims to have the 'right' history and pervade its versions to the current times to satiate egos of supremacy, often forgetting that we are in a different universe now.

Series like 'The Empire' needs to be viewed for content and entertainment much like 'Game of Thrones' minus the mythical elements. And nothing more.

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