The little-known story of Queen Victoria and her beloved Indian servant Abdul Karim was once so little-known that Shrabani Basu, author of the 2010 non-fiction biography Victoria & Abdul, spent three days searching the graveyards of Agra in Utter Pradesh in order to find Karim’s final resting place. Happily, thanks to the lightly comic film adaptation of Basu’s book – penned by Lee Hall, directed by Stephen Frears and starring the indefatigable Judi Dench as the monarch – which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last week, all that is set to change.
Basu came to the Deadline studio to talk about the film, accompanied by Frears and actor Ali Fazal, who plays Karim. “As soon as the book was published,” Basu said, “there were a lot of studios who were interested, and one of the bidders was Lee Hall, the playwright, along with Working Title, and I thought that was a great combination because I love Lee Hall’s work. He wrote Billy Eliot, he’s somebody who’s written about people from the wrong side of the tracks, and I thought Abdul would be safe in his hands.”
Fazal, a rising star in India but relatively unknown in the outside world said that the long auditioning process was like “levels in a video game,” which he had to conquer in order to land the part. What did Frears see in him? “Well, for a start, he’s not English,” said the ever-pragmatic director. “He’s from somewhere else. He’s from outer space, as far as I’m concerned. So his curiosity was very apparent, and his unfamiliarity with England and English practices. Then, he’s also a very good actor. And he’s very good looking.”
See more in the video above.