Nikkhil Advani on Disney+ Hotstar series The Empire: ‘Not chronicling history, staying true to the book'
Filmmaker Nikkhil Advani says the team of his upcoming series The Empire made the period action drama with the intention of doing justice to the source material, Alex Rutherford's historical fiction novel Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North.
Nikkhil is the showrunner of the series which chronicles the era of the Mughal empire founder Babur, played by actor Kunal Kapoor, from the age of 14 till his death at 47.
While retelling of the Mughal history can be considered by many as politically sensitive, Nikkhil said the team has followed the book's narrative faithfully.
"I don't think I am retelling any story, I am just telling the story that is there in the source material. There will be contrasting views, interpretations, people might say, 'This other book says this.' We are not claiming that we have been factual, we are claiming that we are following the book. The book, for all intentions and purposes, is historical fiction," he told PTI in an interview.
The filmmaker said while the team did have a historian to monitor everything-- from the costumes to the dialogues -- their priority was to simply rely on the source material.
"While we have got the era, period, dates and the events right, there could be things that the book claims which people might not agree with. But my only responsibility is towards the book. The advantage here was that Diana and Michael Preston -- pen name Alex Rutherford -- are avid history buffs themselves.
"They are crazy about the Mughal empire and the period. We did have a historian onboard to guide us, but we were lucky that the source material was so compelling. For me, it is not really about chronicling history but staying true and responsible to the book."
Directed by Mitakshara Kumar, who has also co-written it with writer Bhavani Iyer, The Empire will premiere on Disney+ Hotstar on August 27.
Nikkhil said it was the team at Star India and the streamer which first recommended him to read the bestselling book, in 2018.
When he finished the book, his only question to the team was: "Are we sure we want to do this?"
Nikkhil was aware that the series would require a lavish mounting and if the team were to make it, they had to do it right, "without rushing to finish it in two months with a deadline."
He said the first decision his banner Emmay Entertainment took was to get Mitakshara on-board.
Mitakshara brought along with her the experience of big-scale spectacle films, having worked closely with filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali in his direction team on blockbuster period dramas Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat.
Mitakshara's eye for detail complemented Nikkhil's bent towards "gritty" storylines, reflected in films like D-Day and Batla House.
"Where I try to make everything more realistic, grungy and gritty, it was important to bring a different lens to the storytelling. To bring a certain level of patience which allows you to get into the meticulous detailing of the costumes, make up, prosthetics, the writing and even the performances. To get her on-board was the best decision we made," he added.
The Empire was shot for nearly 150 days across Uzbekistan, Rajasthan and in as many as 50 sets in Mumbai with a crew of about 200 people.+
Nikkhil said the team left no stone unturned to make the experience larger-than-life, even when they were hit by the coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown in 2020 during the shoot.
"When the lockdown opened up, the challenge was how to shoot it with just 50 people in the bio bubble. When we didn't get the studio that were big enough to put up our sets, we had to hire grounds and build sets."
But for the filmmaker, The Empire goes beyond the visual spectacle and gives a glimpse into, what he believes, was the lesser-known politics that was at play during the time.
"The period, the visual and emotional scale of the characters and what they were going through was cinematic. But what really drew me to the story, was that while we may have our interpretations and may consider knowing about the Mughal emperors, very little is known about the politics that was being played by the women in backrooms.
"That is the biggest victory of the show, that the women are extremely strong. You get compelled in understanding their sacrifices, their calculations. That's why the show is not called The Emperor' it is called The Empire," he added.
The Empire is produced by Nikkhil’s sister Monisha Advani and Madhu Bhojwani under their banner Emmay Entertainment.
(Written by Justin Rao)