Shrabani Basu, the author behind the now major motion picture Victoria & Abdul, uncovered the truth behind Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim for her 2010 historical novel Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant.


The book and movie adaptation tell the story of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and an Indian orderly Abdul Karim, whom the Queen took a particular liking to. He eventually became one of the Queen’s closest confidants but the traces of their relationship were all but eradicated when Victoria died in 1901.

Author and journalist Basu, however, uncovered the truth. “The idea came to me when I went to Osborne House on the Isle of White and I saw the portrait of Abdul Karim where he’s painted like a nobleman in red and gold and cream,” the author said of her inspiration behind the story. “That aroused my curiosity, ’cause I felt he was not a servant, and it started from there. I went to Windsor Castle, I saw the journals they’d kept, I read a few letters, and everything was bringing the relationship alive for me.”

Basu knew Karim’s family and descendants were still alive, so she went about finding them the only way she could. “I published my first edition of the book because I knew that they are out there, and somebody’s going to reach out to me. I had enough material for the first edition, and within a few days, I was contacted by the family, the descendants in Bangalore in India… so next flight, I got my visa, I was going to Pakistan [where more journals were] and I found this diary, which nobody had looked at for over 100 years.” Basu expressed awe that Karim’s family hadn’t read the diary, and didn’t even know where he had been buried. “This entire history, they didn’t know anything, they just luckily had kept that diary.”

Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria in the film, and Basu reveled in the time she got to spend with the actress. “She brings out all these layers to this performance,” she explains. “The loneliness of the Queen, the feistiness as well, the romantic side. Sometimes she’s a young girl of 16 having a glass of champagne, dancing and singing, and sometimes she’s a lonely old lady and she just does this so beautifully.”

Ali Fazal played Karim, and Basu was impressed with what she called “a fresh face.” “He was such a surprise, that he was so good. To keep up with Judi Dench would have been a really awesome job for any actor, and for somebody who’s just straight out from India… he lived this role. In some ways it was a parallel journey as Abdul Karim would have made. And he’s very good.”

Victoria & Abdul came out in theaters on Sept. 22. See the trailer below.

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