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In films ‘Victoria & Abdul’ and ‘American Made,’ Life is Stranger than Fiction

Actors Ali Fazal and Judi Dench
Actors Ali Fazal and Judi Dench pose during a red carpet for the movie "Victoria and Abdul" at the 74th Venice Film Festival 2017 in Venice. voa

Stephen Frears’ heartwarming drama Victoria & Abdul is about the deep friendship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim between 1887 and 1901, and Doug Liman’s American Made about Barry Seal, a 1970s audacious American pilot, who, during the Nicaraguan Crisis worked for the CIA, the DEA and the Colombian cartel.

As different as these two films are, they are both based on true stories, proving yet again that often life is stranger than fiction. Both films feature intelligent plots and superb acting.

Victoria & Abdul

Stephen Frears’ film Victoria and Abdul, opens in 1887, with the festivities for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, celebrating her 50-year reign.

Abdul Karim, a young Muslim clerk from Agra, India, is sent to the banquet all the way from India to present the queen with a gift from India, a ceremonial coin. To the dismay of Queen Victoria’s courtiers, the Indian servant strikes a deep friendship with the octogenarian Queen Victoria, defying class and racial boundaries.

According to the movie, Abdul Karim impressed the British sovereign with his depth of spirit and good looks. Soon the unlikely friends became inseparable, discussing philosophy, literature, even Indian cuisine. In a span of 14 years, Abdul Karm became the queen’s confidant and munshi, her teacher, in Urdu.

But the queen’s courtesans and her family, sidelined by Abdul, questioned her sanity and considered her removal.

Historian and author Shrabani Basu based her book of the same title on the queen’s journals in Urdu and on Karim’s private diary. Basu discovered Abdul Karim’s personal diary in possession of Karim’s surviving nephew Abdul Rashid in 2010, over a century after the queen’s death.

This was the only document on the relationship between royal and servant that survived the wrath of Queen Victoria’s children. Immediately after her death in 1901, the royals evicted Queen Victoria’s munshi, burned everything he had received from the queen and swiftly shipped him and his family to India. In 1909 Abdul Karim died in Agra leaving his diary as his only testimonial of his deep friendship with the empress.

Director Frears offers captivating cinematography while Dame Judi Dench portrays a free-spirited Queen Victoria and Indian actor Ali Fazal embodies a charming and loyal Adbul Karim.

Though the film does not depict a romantic relationship between the two, it does hint to it. Dench describes the queen’s reaction to Karim:

“She had a ready eye for somebody good-looking, which he is very, so it was easy to imagine a kind of tired, poor person suddenly looking up and seeing this wonderful good-looking young man. How lovely somebody at last beautiful to look at,” Dench said.

But, author Basu says, “At the heart of this book is a story of friendship, a friendship of two different people from two different specters of this world, one is the Empress of India, one is a clerk from Agra jail, and somewhere they have a bond they find this link and a common space.”

Actor Tom Cruise
Actor Tom Cruise poses while promoting a film in Mexico City. voa

American Made

American Made, by Bourne Identity filmmaker Doug Liman, offers a satirical look at the political crisis in Nicaragua.

It shows the involvement of the United States in the revolution during the late 1970s and 1980s through the perspective of pilot Barry Seal, who, for the right price, delivers guns to Nicaragua on behalf of the CIA, and cocaine into the U.S. on behalf of the Colombian cartel. Somewhere in between, Seal also works for the DEA.

Tom Cruise offers an engaging interpretation as Barry Seal, piloting the plane and doing all the stunts throughout the film. Cruise explains what drew him to the character:

“He just couldn’t help himself,” Cruise said. “He just had to live this life. He literally when you are talking about someone living on the edge, he didn’t even realize he was on the edge. He was just living life and not really thinking of necessary ramifications and what’s going to happen.”

As in most of his action film projects, Cruise pushes his boundaries.

“I don’t make a movie just to make a movie,” he said. “It’s not what interests me. What interests me is the passion of cinema, the passion of storytelling. That’s when it gets very exciting, not just a job. I love this too much.”  (VOA)

Next Story

Less Noisy Diwali in Agra this Year, but Pollution Level Goes Up

Air pollution has not come down, but the noise level was definitely controlled and within safe limits

Green activist Shravan Kumar Singh said the quality air index in Agra early Monday morning was 380. Pixabay

A less noisy Diwali was observed in Agra this year. While the sale of firecrackers witnessed a dip, the pollution levels did not abate.

“Past midnight there were few sounds of crackers bursting. It was such a relief this year. Earlier, people used to burst crackers the whole night,” said Vijay Nagar colony resident Sudhir Gupta, a financial consultant.

Green activist Shravan Kumar Singh said the quality air index early Monday morning was 380. “But this was much better than Delhi, which touched a hazardous level.” Air pollution has not come down, but the noise level was definitely controlled and within safe limits, Singh noted.

The SPM and RSPM (suspended particulate matter) level continued to remain alarmingly high. The recent measures to green up the borders of the city to filter the winds from the west, have not yielded much result.

“The worst sufferer of air pollution has been the Taj Mahal, hit by dust and mosquitoes that leave greenish excreta on its surface,” said environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.

“For sure the awareness level is rising. Children have been sensitised in schools and we could see the message being translated into action, not wholly but in part. A positive beginning has been made,” said Yamuna activist Rahul Raj Savita.

A less noisy Diwali was observed in Agra this year. While the sale of firecrackers witnessed a dip, the pollution levels did not abate. Pixabay

“Since Monday morning, there was hardly any firecracker bursting. Either people have no money to buy firecrackers, or they have become sensitive and concerned about the pollution,” added activist Deepak Rajput.

The district authorities had opened 17 markets for firecrackers this year, but after Saturday evening’s fire at the Sultanpura pataka bazar, the police and the fire brigade were put on alert, and a large number of people chose to play safe.

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But, whatever the reason, the city seemed to have responded to the government appeal for a cleaner and safer festival. (IANS)