Shabana Azmi discusses using elements from her wardrobe to style her look as the tenacious Aisan Daulat in The Empire
Shabana Azmi in The Empire
Mughal emperor Babur’s rise to power would perhaps be incomplete without the guidance and tenacity of his grandmother Aisan Daulat Begum. Director Mitakshara Kumar’s The Empire, which premiered over the weekend, not only charts the early years of Babur’s journey, but also explores how his courageous grandmother—played by Shabana Azmi—was the true kingmaker. Casting director Kavish Sinha says the senior actor was an asset on the set as much for her acting prowess as for her command over the Urdu language. The actor would help her co-stars perfect the enunciation of the Urdu alfaaz.
“Shabanaji worked hard on the diction of other actors because she is particular about the Urdu language and its pronunciation,” says Sinha. He adds that the Disney+ Hotstar series, featuring Kunal Kapoor, shines a spotlight on the women in the Mughal dynasty.
Talking about becoming the unofficial language coach on the set of the Nikkhil Advani production, Azmi jokes that she was “aadat se majboor”. The senior actor sometimes found herself correcting the pronunciations of the director, producer and DoP too. “I did it with some of the principal actors too, but the cast changed, and only the young boy who played Babur and I were retained. For me, the greatest pleasure in doing the series was that it gave me a chance to speak Urdu, and the care with which we worked on Aisan Daulat’s look.”
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Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul book series serves as the foundation for the adaptation, with the first season based on his first book, Raiders from the North. Since the book offered little description of the clothes and jewellery used in the era, Azmi along with the director and costume designer Sheetal Sharma put together her look. “We decided on using Central Asian costume and tribal jewellery rather than gold and pearls. I pulled out a lot of my personal Central Asian jackets. I [shaved] my eyebrows partially as I believe the eyebrow shape [enhances] expressions.”
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