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The Empire: Critics’ verdicts on ‘India’s Game of Thrones’ span from ‘horrendous’ to ‘mildly interesting’

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The first reactions to The Empire – the Indian drama series that has been dubbed “India’s answer to Game of Thrones” –have been shared online.

After debuting on the Indian OTT streaming platform Hotstar, the eight-part series drew criticism for its special effects and derivative writing.

The hashtag #UninstallHotstar also began trending over the weekend, as viewers called for a boycott over the series’ alleged glorification of King Babur. In response to grievance complaints, Hotstar denied that The Empire glorified the controversial historical figure.

The Empire is based on Alex Rutherford’s Raiders from the North, the first of six books in the historical fiction series Empire of the Moghul.

The show, directed by Mitakshara Kumar, stars Indian actor Kunal Kapoor in the titular role as Babur and chronicles the life and times of the first Mughal emperor.

Critics, however, slammed the show for a variety of other reasons.

The Hindustan Times’ film critic Rohan Naahar described the series as “horrendous”, writing: “I would complain about the action cutting across timelines just when things are about to get interesting, but that is a complaint predicated on the assumption that things get interesting at all. They don’t.”

He noted that “at no point does Kunal Kapoor appear to age”, calling it a “major sticking point” for the period drama.

Vice India’s Navin Noronha also criticised Kapoor’s acting, adding that “the fact that he yells in every fight scene like I do after a night of chilli chicken says a lot about how we don’t get much to hold on to with him”. The review also found fault with The Empire’s antagonist, Shaybani Khan (played by Dino Morea), arguing that the character is bogged down by “the worst origin story, the worst edits, the worst lines, and the worst death midway through the series.”

Film Companion’s Suchin Mehrotra observed that The Empire is trying to be “Sanjay Leela Bhansali in the streets and Game of Thrones in the sheets” and that the “extent of the influence of those projects....right down to specific scenes, characters and arcs” merits larger discussion.

Mint’s Raja Sen draws readers attention to specific scenes that appear to have been lifted as-is from Game of Thrones, including one where Shayabani Khan skins a bear like Tywin Lannister’s character did.

Other reviews were kinder. The Indian Express’ Sampada Sharma says The Empire is “a sincere attempt at exploring a new genre in the Indian OTT space.” She lauded the intricately-crafted sets and stunning costumes but admitted that what the show “gains in aesthetics, it loses out in VFX”.

Firstpost gave the show, which finished shooting last year after Covid restrictions were lifted in India, “full marks for ambition”. However, Pradeep Menon conceded: “Much of what you see on the show can be found in the two Baahubali films and the last two Bhansali pictures.”

Critics, however, united to celebrate veteran actor Shabana Azmi’s performance in The Empire. The News Minute’s Saraswati Datar wrote that Azmi outshines the rest of the cast with “just her presence” and Naahar credited Azmi with “single-handedly elevating the enterprise”.

From “mildly interesting” to “unspeakably dull”, the critics’ verdict is clear: The Empire is no Game of Thrones.

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