The Empire Review: Kunal Kapoor, Shabana Azmi’s period saga isn’t Game of Thrones, but it sticks to its guns

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Eight episodes of The Empire seems a little too long, especially when the song-dances intrude. For those interested in history, this show could be a slightly interesting option, provided you get past the first few episodes.

 

The Empire
The Empire

 

When the trailer for The Empire first dropped online, many said it looked like  India’s attempt at Game of Thrones . After watching eight episodes of the Hotstar series, let me tell you, this is not Game of Thrones but a sincere attempt to discover a new genre in the Indian OTT space.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
August 27, 2021 9:01:51 am

the empire

Based on Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Mogul – Raiders of the North, The Empire begins with Babar as a 14-year-old boy still learning the ropes of being a royal. He is depicted as a sensitive man who believes in innate human goodness, but does not shy away from slitting his throat when his ‘Badshah’ is in danger.

The eight episodes narrate the different phases of Babur’s life but it takes a while to get into the right groove. Shabani Khan, played by Dino Morea, is portrayed as the emperor’s staunch nemesis, who doesn’t even have a kingdom at the moment, but all the arrogance that goes with it.

the empire series

Shaibani Khan is the kind of villain who addresses herself in the third person,  and is the compound of a god. The feud between the two forms the crux of the plot for more than half the show, so when their fight ends, you expect the series to be consistent. Instead, it goes on and creates new villains, which feel a little insidious. It is at this point that the show turns into the story of Babar’s life and not the Babar Vs Shaibani Khan chapter.

shabana azmi-The Empire

Empire excels in the beauty department. From intricately crafted sets, to beautifully designed costumes, the show leaves you in awe but what it achieves in aesthetics gets lost in VFX.

In a show like this, visual effects matter, which is why the jarring inconsistencies in the CGI are troubling. There are places when you are pulled over by a massive combat setup, only to lose it with a badly executed bombing detonation.

There are some surprises in the Empire. For example, you know who will win when Babur is pitted against Ibrahim Lodi on the battlefield. And there isn’t much suspense about who will be Babur’s heir, but the show, nonetheless, treats it like a story we don’t already know.

 

Empire feels like an honest attempt to revisit the history of India, but it lacks the emotional depth to keep the audience invested. Love, pride, greed, jealousy make us root for someone, and hate someone else and even though Empire tries to establish strong ties within its narrative, they get lost in the shadow of the crown.

Many shows before this, Empire relied heavily on expository dialogue as a means of spoon-feeding audiences. You’d expect a sly character to be a little sly about their plans, but you get what you see that takes away from the mystery of a character’s intentions.

 

As far as performances are concerned, The Empire tries to scale itself where an actor’s presence can convey his intentions but it doesn’t translate well all the time. Shabana Azmi  , who plays Asan Daawat aka Nanijan, has a flair about her that instills  respect for her character.

It’s clear that a character like her often wonders why she lives in a patriarchal world while clearly being the smartest. Later in the series, Drashti Dhami’s Khanzada tries to carry on her legacy, but her official dialogues seem empty, barring Iron Fist. Kunal Kapoor, who plays Babar , has the toughest job in his  hand.

He needs to be gentle but ruthless, kind yet obedient, and the scene where he grows up like a savage killer steals the show. Imad Shah plays Babur’s confidante Qasim like a time traveller, which seems like an odd choice for the character.

 

Eight episodes of Empire seems a little too long, especially in the places where the song-dancing takes place. For those interested in history, this show can be a mildly interesting option, once you get past the first few episodes.