March 12, 2017 3:36:24 pm
A KING at the age of five, separated from his mother at 11 and exiled to England at 15. The life of Punjab’s last Sikh ruler Maharaja Duleep Singh, the youngest son of the mighty Maharaja Ranjit Singh, is a story of trials, tribulations and tragedies. Taken to England by the British, who saw this young king as a threat to their empire in India, Maharaja Duleep Singh grew up under the patronage of Queen Victoria. Converted to Christianity, he met his mother again after 13 years. The Maharaja, torn between two worlds began a journey to connect to his roots and converted again to Sikhism. Fighting the British till the end, he died alone, a pauper in Paris, at the age of 55.
Hollywood brings to life his story through The Black Prince (as Queen Victoria called him) on the silver screen, a chapter of colonial history that remains untouched by filmmakers in India. It also depicts how the precious Kohinoor diamond was deceptively taken away from the young king by the British.
The Black Prince has been written and directed by Punjabi-origin filmmaker Kavi Raz, of KR Films. “Our producer Jasjeet Singh wanted to make a Punjabi film, but I saw the potential of the subject that needed a larger canvas and got Hollywood production companies on board to take the film to another level,” says Raz. Duleep Singh’s journey from a boy king of a mighty kingdom to his death as a pauper is a compelling drama and an epic tragedy, and Raz says it needed to be subtly handled so that it didn’t come across as melodramatic.
The film has been shot extensively in England, with some scenes in Bikaner, with no part having been shot in Punjab. “We were unable to secure any viable locations in Punjab, as sadly no efforts have been made to preserve our architecture, which is in a dilapidated state. The response from the government of Punjab wasn’t too positive either. One of the most interesting places we filmed at was the Althorp Castle, where late Princess Diana grew up and is now buried. We are the first ones to get permission to film there and it was a great honour,” says Raz.
As Founder and Artistic Director of the Wandering Players’ Theatre Company, Raz’s plays have been staged across the world. Western audiences were exposed to the works of Rabindranath Tagore for the first time through his company, as well as playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder.
In The Black Prince, Punjabi singer and artist Satinder Sartaaj plays Duleep Singh and actor Shabana Azmi plays Maharani Jinda, the mother. Though Raz confesses that at times he felt uneasy that the crew and actors were largely British. “But they were receptive to their history being narrated in an honest manner. They were aware of the atrocities committed by their ancestors, and for many it was a soul-cleansing exercise,” he says.
The story of how the Kohinoor was deceptively taken away from the young King is also an important part of the film. “We have tried to present both sides of the story, leaving it to the audience to take the stance. We are also working on a separate documentary on the Kohinoor,” says Raz. He feels it’s a loss that the Maharaja died before India became free, though he fought for it till the end. “My mission is to tell the present generation about this,” he says.
“We have tried to present both sides of the story, leaving it to the audience to take the stance. We are also working on a separate documentary on the Kohinoor,” says Raz. He feels it’s a loss that the Maharaja died before India became free, though he fought for it till the end. “My mission is to tell the present generation about this,” he says.
The Black Prince will be released worldwide on May 19 in English, Hindi and Punjabi. The film was recently screened at Manchester Film Festival where it also won the award for Best Production and will be screened at London Film Festival in April. Special screenings will also be held in Chandigarh, Mumbai and Delhi.
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