Ali Fazal, the Lucknow-born actor who stood out in recent Bollywood movies, will play Abdul Karim, the Indian clerk from Agra who forged an unlikely 19th century friendship with Queen Victoria in a forthcoming film.
Chronicled by writer Shrabani Basu in her 2010 book, “Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant”, the story of the unusual relationship is being made into a movie by Working Title Films with Oscar-winning actor Judi Dench playing the “Empress of India”.
It is directed by Stephen Frears with the screenplay by Lee Hall. Filming in India, Scotland and the Isle of Wight is scheduled to begin shortly.
Fazal played the role of engineering student Joy Lobo in “3 Idiots” and also featured in films such as “Fukrey” and “Always Kabhi Kabhi”, and the American TV series “Bollywood Hero”. His selection to play the key role of Karim was confirmed to HT on Friday.
Described as tall and handsome, Karim was 24 when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1819-1901). He was an assistant clerk at the Agra Central Jail.
Basu’s book described how within a year, Karim was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or “munshi”, and instructing her in Urdu and Hindi and Indian affairs. Her intense and controversial relationship with Karim led to a near-revolt in the royal household.
Karim went on to play a central role at the heart of the empire, with influence over the queen at a time when the independence movement in the Indian subcontinent was growing. It is also described as a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen.