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Victoria & Abdul unveiled new facets of Queen to world: Author Shrabani Basu

Basu said that before beginning her research, she did not know that Victoria learnt Urdu for 13 years or how attached she was to India.

books Updated: Dec 11, 2017 09:47 IST
Indo Asian News Service
Victoria & Abdul,Author,Shrabani Basu
Basu worked as a consultant on the film based on her book.

Shrabani Basu, the author of Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, which was later transformed into the 2017 Hollywood film titled Victoria & Abdul, said she feels both her book and the film helped unveil new facets of Queen Victoria’s character to people all over the world. “I think the book and now the film unveils new traits of the Queen of England to all of us that remained unexplored before. A lot of people have come to me in England and said they had no idea that Queen Victoria had a formal lesson in Urdu.”

“I did not know that Victoria learnt Urdu for 13 years or how attached she was to India. Her character was developing for me as I researched,” Basu said during a presentation and discussion on Saturday at the Oxford Bookstore here, on her journey to write the story. “For us, growing up in India, Queen Victoria is this formidable character dressed in black with fierce expressions and her famous line being ‘We are not amused’. But as I went through her letters and other notes, I realised there was so much more to her character that just being the dreaded Queen of England,” she said.

Basu said she first became curious about Abdul Karim, a person who was sent from India’s Agra to England to serve Queen Victoria in 1887, after she saw one of his portraits in Osborne House, a former private home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the UK’s Isle of Wight. “He was painted as a noble man with red and gold turban on his head and book in his hand. The moment I saw the picture I thought he wasn’t just an Indian servant to the queen. He looked a lot more than that,” she pointed out. The author noted that Abdul, who was sent as a gift to the Queen by one of the British jailors in India, was instantly liked by the Queen and was later appointed by her as her Urdu teacher or ‘Munshi’, while the Queen taught him English.

The film starred Academy Award winner Judi Dench and Bollywood actor Ali Fazal in the two lead roles.

“At the beginning of Victoria’s Hindustani journals, her Urdu was bad while Abdul’s English had no grammar. However, by the end of the thirteenth year, his English became flawless and her Urdu improved a great deal. So in a way they taught each other well,” she noted. The author, who went through four years of research in England, India and Pakistan before writing the book, said the accomplishment was immensely satisfying as it was a subject never touched before.

Hailing the 2017 film by Stephen Frears, starring Academy Award winner Judi Dench and Bollywood actor Ali Fazal in the two lead roles, the author said she found her association with the film as a consultant every bit as fascinating. “I worked as a consultant to the film. So I was very much involved. For the film, I had to research on the Agra jail and how the inmates stayed there, which I had not done previously for the book. We also discussed costumes of the characters. I remember spending days looking for a ‘large nose ring’ worn by the Munshi’s wife as described by Queen Victoria in one of her letters.”

Basu also had a role in choosing the production house that made the film out of the book. “I liked his work from before because he is someone who frequently writes about working class people. So I thought he would be a great choice to write the character of Abdul for the film,” she added.

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First Published: Dec 11, 2017 09:47 IST