Opportunity missed? Or valiant effort at recreating one of the lowest ebbs of Empire…
THIS is one of the great stories of the 19th century and an important one in telling how Britain came to conquer India.
Prince Duleep Singh, as he was known, was spirited to Buckingham Palace and grew up with Queen Victoria as a friend (and it is quite possible she had an aunty-type crush on him).
His lineage was such that he was inculcated into an English prince’s ways…Christianity, fine clothes, aristocratic pursuits – but he was actually the Maharajah of Punjab and born a proud Sikh.
His father had ruled a kingdom that spanned Afghanistan, modern day Pakistan and most of North India. Lahore was their capital and Sikhism flourished – but after Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, the Sikh Empire went into decline with no clear successor, court intrigue and two Anglo-Sikh wars. The British emerged victorious and thought it best the young price – the only heir to the throne – be schooled in Britain. He and a certain diamond landed up at Buckingham Palace.
This film picks up with his reawakening and his belief, encouraged by his mother (played by the iconic Shabana Azmi) that he had a kingdom to rule and return he must.
Sufi singing star Satinder Sartaaj plays the young prince in this biopic. It’s his first feature film performance – he isn’t bad (he gives it his best and we want to be generous maybe…), but this part is so grand and majestic that it deserved a seasoned actor to carry it off.
Actor-turned director Kavi Raz exhibits some nice touches and the setting of Althorp (the home of the late Princess Diana) is beautiful and well-utilised.
It’s not a bad watch and anyone coming to this story afresh will surely be intrigued but perhaps with more skill and experience at the helm it could have broken far beyond its obvious constituency.
UK production companies with a veritable reputation for costume drama should watch this and think…
Some might also baulk at the relative reframing of the historical figure that was Prince Duleep. Regarded as a dilettante, more interested in romantic pursuits (ahem) than freedom for his native land, that side of his character is not covered at all. Whether the British establishment indulged him is probably accurate, but there was a late awakening and the film could have done more to accentuate that.
See this film and support the people who backed it (mostly Sikh Americans), but don’t expect anything and you might come out feeling pleasantly surprised. (Sailesh Ram)
Acv rating: ** ½ (out of five)
*The Black Prince is out from today (July 21) in the UK…
Here’s star Satinder Sartaaj talking it to us at the Cannes Film Festival
And at the London Indian Film Festival
The opening of the London Indian Film Festival