The “Victoria & Abdul” trailer features two actors representing a culturally, socially and economically imbalanced relationship. And when those two actors are the formidable Judi Dench and the relatively raw Ali Fazal, the chasm between the have and have-not, becomes more non-negotiable.
But Ali, God bless his unfettered, unselfconscious spirit, manages to make the relationship between Queen Victoria and her favourite Man Friday Abdul in this colonial cross-cultural non-romance look absolutely convincing.
It is in the way Ali looks at Ms Dench — his eyes soaked in a vinegary warmth that has nothing to do with lust for power or, God forbid, sex. It’s the look of a guileless, but mature man who adores someone far above him in rank, wisdom and age.
It’s that look which holds us in the trailer of “Victoria & Abdul”. Director Stephen Frears opens up the windows and the doors of the two hearts that somehow came together in the unlikeliest of friendship.
The presentation is posh but not overblown. The humour is British but not over dry. The warmth of the central relationship is tangible, but not cloying.
While the two central characters grip our senses in the trailer, the incidental characters also seem to have been carved out of the wood of the plausible.
The Queen’s court throbs with a lived-in familiarity. Judi Dench snoring off at the dinner table, her deputies declaring her insane for befriending an Indian ‘peasant’, the Queen stubbornly insisting that her new young handsome Indian Man Friday-turned-friend teach her Urdu and the tenets of the Holy Quran — it all adds up to a feeling of being in the midst of a relationship that transcends convention and definition.
Every time Ali looks at Ms Dench with that heart-melting smile, I am reminded of Gulzar Saab’s lines “Humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehekti khusbhoo, haath se chhu ke isse rishton ka ilzaam na do”.
Ali Fazal, get ready to be the next Shashi Kapoor in the West.
By Subhash K. Jha