The cast of Nikkhil Advani‘s The Empire, including Kunal Kapoor, Drashti Dhami and Dino Morea talk about the intent of the show, their characters and the scale of the Disney+ Hotstar series, available on streaming from August 27.
Rohini Ramnathan: Tell me, while making a series like this, how important is it to be true to history and to bring out your intent to showcase it in the best way possible?
Kunal Kapoor: This show is based on a book, Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul: Raiders of the North. So, nowhere are we saying that this is real history, or facts. This is a historical fiction. The writers have done a lot of research on the facts, but there is also a lot of fiction in it. We aren’t saying that we’re making a biopic or generalizing any community, our show bases itself on what is written in Rutherford’s book. We have tried to be as honest as we can be to the book. Finally, we aren’t being historically accurate, we’re just being accurate and honest to the book.
The book’s rights were acquired by Nikkhil. I had read it 4-5 months prior to being offered the show. I found its world and characters very interesting. I thought that someone should make a show on this, and coincidentally, after 4-5 months, I was offered a character in a show based on this book.
RR: Can you tell us something which you didn’t know about or learnt about Babur (according to the book)?
KK: See, the way Babur has been written in the book is perhaps very different from what or how Babur actually was. What I found interesting about Babur, from this book, was, firstly, how differently and unconventionally he was portrayed as an emperor.
When you think about an emperor, you put him in a box, labelling him as confident and determined. Babur, according to this book and script, has a lot of self-doubt as an emperor. He doubts his worth as an emperor and thinks he has got the reigns by mistake.
Secondly, I found his character to be a contradictory one. He is physically strong but can be emotionally weak. Many times, it is the women in his family – his sisters, his grandmother, his wife – who nudge him in the right direction. Also, he can be poetic, but he can be brutal as well. With all these contradictions, I felt that it would be fun playing this character.
RR: The women in The Empire seem to be very interesting. The stills remind me of the power of the women in Game of Thrones. The costumes also look great. So, Drashti, what did you do to become Khanzada?
Drashti Dhami: I worked on my diction. I also learnt to be very calm when I was doing the scenes. You don’t have to move a lot, you don’t have to be hyper. Khanzada is so strong that with one word and one look, she tells what she wants to tell people. She never screams. I have never screamed in the show till now, but I’ve still put my point across calmly. This is not how I have acted in the past so it was very different for me. I’ve learnt many different ways of acting, I’ve learnt doing a lot without doing a lot. There is a lot of difference between acting for TV and acting for OTT.
RR: When you see a show of this scale, do you feel a pressure that, “We have to be better. We have to be as good as the set and the elephants and the hundred thousand people?” We’ve seen the making of the show and it’s just like all you want is the shot to come together. Does that put a pressure on you as an actor?
Dino Morea: Considering the amount of hard work that goes into the way everyone plays their parts, I feel that they should feel the pressure. Because if you’re not feeling that pressure, you do not feel that challenge, you don’t feel that you need to put in that extra work. So feeling that pressure is necessary.
When you look at the costumes, the sets and the technicians and when you see it all coming together, you feel, “This is large!” It’s more than what you envisioned to do, it’s more than what you have just heard in the script, and you know you have to put in so much effort in your part. Everyone needs to play their part well – and it’s not just about actors, I’m talking about action directors and cinematographers too, as they too have a responsibility and a crucial role in the show-making process. If they all feel that pressure, it makes the show grand in every aspect. Yes, I felt the pressure, and in a good way. I took this as a challenge and took it in my stride. I thought how I, as an actor, can approach Shaybani Khan and give him that energy and life. So that when the audiences watch you, they remember you. That is what we want, and that is what we are trying to achieve.