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Aditya Seal, The Empire’s Humayun, on backlash against the series: ‘Please go back in time and change history’

“For me singing-dancing is way more difficult than being Humayun,” Adiya Seal says. The actor is currently riding high on the success of his latest Disney Plus Hotstar show, The Empire, where he played the role of the Mughal prince, Humayun.  “Nikkhil Advani and his company Emmay saw something in me which probably I did not see myself for Humayun,” Aditya adds.

The Empire is based on the novel Empire of the Moghul by Alex Rutherford. It portrays the origin of the Mughals, their rise and expansion under Babur and how they defeated Ibrahim Lodi in the Battle of Panipat to enter Hindustan (Indian subcontinent) from Kabul. While the show focuses on Kunal Kapoor’s Babur, Aditya Seal’s Humayun appears in the second half of the series.

“It feels nice when my character is revealed and spoken about post release. That’s happened with me in Student of the Year 2 as well where people had good things to say. It feels like an underdog victory. Kab tak chupa ke rakhoge!,” Aditya shares with a smile.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, he further reveals that his previous work, also including Indoo Ki Jawani, was different from what he did in The Empire. “Such films involve attracting the audience by the way you look, sing and dance, and I get very conscious when it is about these things. But if I’m supposed to play a character forgetting the glamour part of it, I’m happier. Here, even in the war sequence, there was blood and dust all over our faces.”

According to Aditya, he slept on the ground, rolled on the dust and allowed dirt to be smeared on his face to get the look right. “When I walked on the set for the first time, I was conscious. But when you have so many actors in their get-up, looking a part of the era, it is not difficult to get in the zone. The intricate [details] of the set also helped me a lot,” he adds.

Directed by Mitakshara Kumar The Empire received attention for its extravagant sets, detailing of props, grand costumes and the scale of production. For Aditya, being a part of such a magnum opus was a memorable experience. However, he claims that more than the size of the project, it was about the content. Being part of three episodes, he wasn’t aware of what the cast and crew had shot before that, and when he realised its grandeur, he was in awe.

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“I knew what it was about and the concept. But when I first saw its teaser where Kunal Kapoor as Babur says “Paigham bhijwa do sabko, hum aa rahe hain”, I was blown away. It was making a huge statement. There I realised this is way bigger than what I had imagined.”

And how was it working with a remarkable line-up of actors in its ensemble cast? Stating that he speaks less but absorbs all that’s happening around him, Aditya says, “Because we were shooting during the pandemic, we didn’t get to spend too much time with each other. The great part was when everyone walked on set as Babur, Maham, Kamran, Khanzada, it became easier to see each other as our respective characters. I bonded with Kunal Kapoor a lot since a  majority of my scenes were with him. I would sit in his vanity. He’s like a gentle giant. You just let his aura get into you. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to work with Shabana Azmi.”

The Empire’s season two is expected to revolve around Aditya Seal’s Humayun. (Photos: PR Handout)

Aditya picks the scene where his character Humayun arrives with the battalion to help his father Babur ahead of the battle, as his personal favourite. “I usually don’t see the monitor post the take because I get conscious, but that was one scene I saw and felt amazing.”

Aditya Seal recently receives the Most Promising Actor award at the Dehradun International Film Festival, by the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. Did he ever feel worried about any backlash or rejection considering such historical dramas come under scanner easily? Aditya reveals there were language experts on the set to correct their Urdu pronunciation and ‘nuqtas’. “I was rather worried about staying as close to history as possible. We do take liberties. It is cinema after all, but those liberties shouldn’t offend a certain section of people. Of course there will be some backlash that we were glorifying invaders. I say if you have a problem, please go back in time and change history. A huge film like Border was based on an incident but that doesn’t mean you’re glorifying war.”

Aditya is keeping fingers crossed for the second season of The Empire, which, as per chronology should revolve around his Humayun’s reign. “My expectations were at a good level but it surpassed all that. It got me all pumped up and I hope we do a season two because it doesn’t make sense not to do it. Here’s hoping we surpass more expectations now,” he said, picking Ishaan Khatter to play his onscreen son Akbar. “Though that doesn’t add up at all, but I couldn’t think of anybody younger,” he said with a laugh.

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While his Indoo Ki Jawani gained better traction post its digital premiere soon after its theatrical release last year, Aditya has never been averse to doing web series, at this early stage in his career, including Forbidden Love and Fittrat. He said experiments with stories in films get restricted. “There’s a box office which needs to be fulfilled. With OTT, content is king. Who is cast and everything else is secondary. That’s what’s attracting me to this medium. It is educating the audience about better cinema. There I get to do what I wanted to do, try different characters. Everybody is moving into OTT space. There’s a bigger fanbase, a bigger audience.”

Calling his late father his biggest critic and fan, Aditya added that he misses his support. “I lost him to Covid. He’s been my biggest fan. He’s the reason I’m here. He paved the entire way, I just walked on it. He was a man of few words. If he liked a project, he would just pat my back twice. That’s the only acceptance I needed,” the actor shared on an emotional note.

He also mentioned that his girlfriend Anushka Ranjan has been a pillar of support to him.  Reflecting on how a strong partner boosts confidence levels, Aditya added, “She motivates me a lot, though we have different mindsets. I’m way more relaxed. She is a go-getter and independent. Of course I’d love to take care of her, but I don’t have to. She manages stuff on her own and handles mine too. The final decision is hers simply because she’s better at that. That’s what I love about her and that’s what true equality is. It does not make me less of a man to accept that she’s way smarter and I take a lot of pride in that.

Aditya, who claims to be on social media due to “pressure”, has Bosco Martis’ directorial debut Rocket Gang in his kitty. The dance-comedy will ensure he gets to “shake a leg and break a leg.”

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