It felt good to play the role of Abdul Karim: Ali Fazal

Ali Fazal and Judi Dench at the premiere of ‘Victoria & Abdul’ in Venice 
Photos: Franco Origlia for Universal

When Shrabani Basu went to visit the Isle of Wright in England, she saw in the corridor, a portrait of an Indian man who was given a lot of importance.

This was the portrait of Abdul Karim; the Munshi, the Queen’s confidant and her best friend for the last 15 years of her life.

“He looked more like a nawab in the portrait rather than a servant,” Basu told News India Times in a phone interview and added that she somehow knew that he was very special to her.

While in England, Basu started researching about the Munshi and continued to when she returned to India, “I collected letters from his house and even went through the Queen’s book where she wrote in Urdu.”

Altogether, it took her four years to gather all of the information and write it into a book called Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, and was happy to have it auctioned and made into a film.

“The story is unknown and I thought it was interesting that she actually learned to read and write Urdu,” Basu said.

The film Victoria & Abdul was recently reviewed by News India Times.

“It felt really good to play the role of Abdul Karim in the film,” said Ali Fazal in a phone interview with News India Times, adding that he spent one and a half month researching about the story including studying Abdul Karim’s handwriting and looking at the costumes along with having to gain some weight for the role.

When asked how it felt working with Judy Dench, he said “it was lovely working with her as she is a royalty amongst actors; we became good friends since day one.”

Fazal has starred in several Bollywood films as well but is not to keen on doing any big budget films.

“I don’t believe in big budget films, I don’t need them. I’m just looking for films with good content, good cinema and a good script,” he said, and Victoria & Abdul definitely seems to fit the bill.

The film is about the unique relationship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim or more formerly known as the Munshi, a teacher, who taught her how to read and write Urdu and became her personal assistant as well as a member of the royal family despite the disagreement of the rest of the family.

After several attempts to send the Munshi back to India, the family waits for the Queen to pass on before sending him back for good.

Abdul Karim had come to Britain, originally to present a “mohar” or a symbolic coin, thanking her for the praise she gave him for selecting her carpets but ended up staying as the Queen grew fond of him.

Victoria & Abdul is playing at Paris Theatre and Sunshine Cinema in New York City.



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