Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Victoria and Abdul | Queen Victoria's shocking relationship with a servant

Published:Wednesday | September 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in ‘Victoria and Abdul'.

Based on confirmed evidence of Queen Victoria's relationship with her Indian servant, this poignant film recounts the lives of two human beings, who, despite the great divide in their status and societal norms of the era, formed a lasting and unbreakable bond.

She is 81 years old, has almost a billion citizens under her rule and is the most powerful woman in the world, yet bemoans her fate as a queen. Victoria and Abdul reflects the striking story of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim - a young Indian servant, who in 1887, during India's colonial era, was one of the two Indian servants selected to serve the queen. He caught the queen's attention by doing the unthinkable - starring daringly into her eyes after being warned not to. A rare intellectual and spiritual friendship blossomed between the pair and he became her 'munshi' - an Indian word for teacher/clerk. This led to friction within her aristocratic household, as her son, Prince Edward, and members of and attendants of the royal household disapproved of the queen's fondness of Abdul, who she came to call her "dearest Munchi". To avoid the threat of being declared insane, the queen backs down from her bid to bestow knighthood upon Adbul, but defiantly parades him at her side on June 2, 1897, during her very public Diamond Jubilee commemorating her rein of 60 years as a monarch. Abdul had the distinction of serving the queen for her final 15 years of reign.

Nearly all traces of the correspondence between the queen and her 'Munshi' were destroyed by her successor, King Edward VII, after her death in 1901. Abdul Karim was also sent back to India, where he lived a quiet life in Agra on the land granted to him by the queen before her passing. Abdul died at age 46.

Victoria and Abdul is produced by the film-makers of The Queen (Academy Award for Best Actress in 2007, Helen Mirren, and based on the evidence found in Shrabani Basu's book of the same name. The film stars Academy Award winner Dame Judi Denich ('Queen Victoria'), Bollywood actor Ali Fazal ('Abdul'), Olivia Williams ('Baroness Churchill'), and Micheal Cambon ('Lord Salisbury').