<Review by: Swati Sharan>
Directed by Kavi Raz. Starring Satinder Sartaaj, Shabana Azmi
Running time: 2 hours
What if the lion was told he was a mouse most of his life and believed it? Such is the story of the last Sikh king of Punjab, Duleep Singh or The Black Prince as Queen Victoria called him. Though he was technically a maharaja, Duleep Singh was belittled into believing he was a mere prince.
He was forced to give up the Kohinoor diamond to the British who seperated Singh from his mother at the age of 10 and then whisked him off to England when he was 15.
He was also forced to convert from Sikhism to Christianity. It was only when Singh brought over his mother Rani Jindan from India to England that his journey of reclaiming his lion identity began. The film therein traces Duleep Singh’s attempts at making peace with himself from his reclamation of Sikhism to the steps he took for reclaiming India’s independence and his tragic end as a pauper prince for this revolt.
The film is a brilliantly recreated period epic. It is a must-see for any modern Indian history buff. It is very relatable. The art design, staging, costume and make-up are also to be highly applauded for the authentic layers they’ve helped to portray. The direction and acting are all very strong.
Shabana is fiery and witty while Satinder has enacted his role on the premise of subtlety. The film, however, strays away from Duleep Singh’s personal dynamics with drinking and womanising and focuses minimally on leaving his family behind in the name of India’s independence. The story’s focus seems to be more on the major historical turning points and public actions of Duleep Singh’s life.
One may argue that the bad image that Duleep Singh got is likely a British conspiracy to keep him and his movement down and that’s also why so little was known of him and his family till recently. One may also argue that the British chose to end the Sikh dynasty by subtly kidnapping its last heir and making him confused and dysfunctional so that next generation could not carry the lion of Punjab’s legacy and revolt. All in all, the film is about a lion that must re-learn to his kingly ways.