The film, Victoria and Abdul, is inspired by a true story for the most part. At least that’s what the movie claims right at the beginning. Starring Ali Fazal as Abdul and Academy award-winner, Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and directed by Stephen Frears, the film saw its international release on October 6 and an Indian release today, on October 13, 2017.
What’s It About
The films starts off in Agra, where Abdul (Ali Fazal) is seen offering morning prayers against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal. He maintains the ledger of inmates at a local jail. In a turn of events, he is selected by his superiors to present a ‘mohur’ to the Empress Of India and the Queen Of England, Victoria (Dame Judi Dench). The Queen, who leads a boring life, is intrigued by this Indian slave and orders him to be his personal servant and then a munshi (teacher). In no time, Abdul wins over the Queen with his wit and charm, and an unbreakable friendship brews between the unlikely duo. This doesn’t go down well with the house and they plan and plot against this Indian, who belongs to a lowbrow lineage. How the Queen protects Abdul and how Abdul lives for his friendship with the Queen, forms the rest of the plot.
When there’s the magnificent Judi Dench in a film, it’s a no brainer that the film will be high on performance. Judi Dench looks and feels every bit the majesty that she portrays on the big screen. In my opinion no other actress could’ve pulled this role better than her. She is the highlight of the film. Ali Fazal surprised me with his understated performance. Having seen him in Indian films and quite a few crossover ones, this can easily termed as his best performance till date. This is his first lead role in a big Hollywood film and he nails the part. I don’t blame the Queen if she was charmed by Abdul instantly because Ali Fazal is indeed likeable in this one.
Other performances in the film – be it that of Queen’s son, Bertie, played by Eddie Izzard, Olivia Williams, late Tim Pigott-Smith etc, are on point with their act of scheming and whiny house members, who are jealous of Abdul’s proximity to the Queen.
What I liked most about this film was that these kinds of biographical dramas are often serious in tone, which might bore most of us but director Stephen Frears has very smartly weaved it with comical undertones to make it an easy breezy affair.
The background score and the cinematography will often give you the feel of a Disney adventure flick, which is a good thing. Also read: Exclusive! Did you know Rajkummar Rao had auditioned for Ali Fazal’s role in Dame Judi Dench’s Victoria & Abdul?
The film is not without its shortcomings. Before talking about that, let me make it clear that I am not going to go into its historical accuracy as, when the film released internationally, couple of weeks ago, I read a lot about its inaccuracy and how it’s racist! So, watching it purely from an entertainment point-of-view and believing what the filmmaker tried to portray as the quote in the beginning of the film states that it’s inspired by true story for the most part.
I didn’t quite get the Queen’s fascination towards Abdul at the first glance. Is it because he was terribly good looking as she mentions initially or was it because he was brown and as she mentioned she had never been to India and was lonely for over 30 years now, so was it her exotic fantasy? Also, in one of the scenes, she feels cheated when he reveals much later that he’s married. Her reaction left much to desire.
Talking about the racial undertone in the film, many South Asians might not like the way Abdul greets the Queen by kissing her feet at quite a few junctures. Considering Abdul’s companion, Mohammad, hated the British for their barbaric ways, why was Abdul so floored by them and thought it to be prestigious to serve the Queen. Especially, after India’s first mutiny in 1857, where most of Indians were revolting for Independence, there was Abdul who was happy serving the queen and kissing her feet. This particular part of the film is an endless debate.
Also, the pacing might be an issue for those who like fast-paced films. Also read: A suited up Ali Fazal has a fan boy moment as he meets Sridevi while promoting Victoria and Abdul in LA – view pics
What To Do
If you can do away with its racial undertones and its alleged factual inaccuracy, Victoria & Abdul is an endearing tale of love and friendship that will leave a smile on your face for the most part of it. Watch it for its humour and the performances by Judi Dench, Ali Fazal and other actors in the film.
Reviewed by Gaurang Chauhan
**** Very good