Victoria & Abdul – a beautiful depiction of two cultural interactions

Recently I watched a British movie Victoria & Abdul on Netflix. Made in 2017, the film bridges both Indian and British talents. It is based on a book of the same name written by Shrabani Basu. Nicely directed by Stephen Frears, a British director, film has lead roles by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. With her elegance and experience, Judi Dench certainly brings out all dramatic elements that Queen Victoria might have felt for Abdul, his Indian servant. Ali Fazal is coming out very well as a bright actor in his role of Abdul from beginning to the end.

The film describes story of young Indian clerk and old British Queen, one looking for a new life in Britain and another excited to find a new company in a new Indian Muslim boy whom she describes as ‘terribly handsome’ in the movie. Not easy to say what kind of relationship exists between them in the film, but Abdul becomes munshi- a teacher – of Urdu to Her Highness, which the royal family members didn’t like. The increasing importance of the ‘low born’ Indian clerk was perhaps not acceptable to them. So, there is humor in the movie.

Slowly Queen Victoria’s interest increases in India and she gets Abdul to build the Durbar Room at her Isle of Wight home of Osborne House. Elements of Mughal rule in India is brought to the movie through Abdul’s wisdom. Due to jealously, family members persistently try to send Abdul back to India, which doesn’t happen during the lifetime of Queen, as she resists every move and keeps Abdul with her. She even gets Abdul’s family in England. But finally, when she dies, Abdul is sent back to India, where he spends rest of his life in Agra.

The movie was well-received by the audience and critics and ended up making a huge profit and earning many reputed awards. It won awards for best costume design at 15th Irish Film & Television Awards in 2018. Director Stephen Frears won Truly Moving Picture Award at the 26th Heartland Film Festival and Music Director Thomas Newman won Hollywood Film Composer Award at the 21st Hollywood Film Awards. Actress Judi Dench was nominated for a number of awards at various functions including for the 75th Golden Globe Award.

There are a number of joint film projects taken up by India and the UK, and many of them are well received in both the countries. It creates a sustaining living bridge between the two countries.

People’s High Commissioner Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam retires

Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam, a 1982 batch IFS officer, retired on 30th April 2020. She served for one and a half year in London as High Commissioner of India. Exceptionally popular in the UK, not only amongst the Indian people numbering 2 million – if we include professionals and students – but also the local authorities and businesses, she was seen always smiling contagiously. A humble human touch in personality made her approachable by anyone in the gatherings of hundreds of people. Any member present at the event would walk to her, without hesitation, speak to her and click a selfie. Her popularity surpassed even sports and film celebrities present in the event whom people would desert for a picture with the High Commissioner in beautiful saree.

In the event of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s talk at Nehru Cultural Centre in May 2019 she was completely at ease with the Maestro. She gracefully exhibited her appreciation for the achievement of Sarod Player. Similarly, there were many professional diplomatic learnings for every officer during the Ministerial visits to London, may it be Dr S Jaishankar, EAM; Mr Piyush Goyal, CIM & Railways; Dr Hardeep Singh Puri, MOS (IC); or that of Mr V. Muraleedharan, MOS of EA. 

In serious business events and meetings, she would bring freshness, without diluting the depth of discussion. Take the example of Sustainable Financing evening in Guild Hall or Diaspora Effect Report launch at the same place, everyone said she was always on the top of the subjects.  It may be a combination of her vast knowledge, command over varieties of subjects and deep understanding of human nature (possibly due to an educational background in Psychology) that she displayed comfort and competence, in equal balance, at every occasion.

It was her love for Indian culture and fantastic ability to display the power of women that made it possible to have first-ever Fashion Show of Indian Saree at the London Fashion Week in February 2020. It was one in the series of many events which included the prestigious exhibition of Kashmiri Pashmina Shawl at St James Court, The Taj in London. The remarkable first-ever India Day held in UK Parliament in June 2019 or the first-ever India Day held in the City of London in July 2019, resulted in strengthening relations between the two countries, under her leadership.

Energetic and active, the High Commissioner met leaders of the UK government, held diplomatic discussions; spoke at the renowned think-tanks like Chatham House; celebrated Women’s Day; falicitated many artists and achievers; hosted Indian cricketers at her residence; visited BAPS temple; attended dozens of community events; and even welcomed children in her office on the occasion of Halloween! The variety and amount of work she did during her stay in London will remain a study in itself. 

The celebration of 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the 550th Anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji in 2019, meticulously planned under her guidance, conveyed a positive message to the whole of UK. Her larger than life image displayed on a digital screen at the Trafalgar Square, delivering a message of peace, prosperity and love for everyone at the Diwali function hosted by Mayor of London. These came out in complete contrast to the violent protests held in front of the High Commission a few weeks before the event.

Born on 4th April 1960, she retired after almost 39 years of service as Indian diplomat. Her stint as the first Indian female career diplomat High Commissioner in the UK might be the most important, but remarkable achievements she had had throughout her career are outstanding too. She is married to her batchmate, Amb. A R Ghanashyam and they have two sons.