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‘The Black Prince’ is a story of Queen Victoria and the Last King of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh. His character as it evolves, torn between two cultures and facing constant dilemmas as a result. His relationship with Queen Victoria will be the most impactful relationship in the film, the Queen representing the English culture he was drawn into.
Director: Kavi Raz
Writer: Kavi Raz
Stars: Jason Flemyng, Amanda Root, Shabana Azmi
Review by Gilbert Seah
A lavish production, the true tragic story of the Maharaja of Punjab entitled THE BLACK PRINCE was launched at Cannes this year at a glitzy event at the Indian Pavilion. But the film was not shown but its trailer together with interview opportunities with its star Satinder Sartaaj a famous singer/poet making his transition to big screen acting. The film finally arrives, but unfortunately the film is not what is expected from Cannes.
THE BLACK PRINCE is a story of the last king of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh (Satinder Sartaaj) and Queen Victoria (Amanda Root). The film follows Maharaja Duleep Singh, first placed on the throne at the age of 5, after the death of his father. In 1849, Punjab was annexed to British India. The young prince was removed from the throne and eventually sent off to England. His attempts to return to India and reclaim his kingdom were thwarted by the British. He ended up a pauper, dying alone in a Paris hotel in 1893.
It is difficult to see the reason a film based on the failure of a man trying to regain his thrown got made, except perhaps to show the evil the British had done in the past, which the film emphasizes once too many a time, like an old racist grandparent nagging a grandchild of the evil of a particular culture. The film is not only a downer but also monotonously boring and badly executed.
There were a number of film critics that walked out of the press screening and a number that kept walking in and out to the toilet. It was indeed difficult to keep still during the long 120 minutes of the film’s running time. Apparently the film’s first cut was 4 hours.
There are a lot of things wrong with the film as evident in a number of scenes. In one where Duleep’s first wife struggles to tell him not to give up his English heritage, the camera focuses on Duleep’s reactions instead of her facial expressions. The two should be closer together in the argument and the camera should not show both of them, focusing one face to another but rather show more close-ups for emotional tension. The wife in the next segment is shown backing up her husband and then in the next, against him once again. Duleep’s son (one of them) suddenly appears in one scene condemning his father’s actions to the British Empire. The annoying soundtrack coaching the audience when and how to feel what does not help either.
The Maharajah also sports one of the worst haircuts ever seen on the screen EVER – a bald head with long hair streaming down the bottom half of his head. If there is anything this film is to remembered for, it is this haircut.
The dialogue at times, when meant to be serious comes across as laughable. Take for example Duleep’s big speech: “We will stick our daggers into their hearts and we will take back our Kingdom!” The film also does not explain where Duleep gets all his money to finance his trips and to travel to Paris, France whenever his heart desires.
All good intentions aside to tell the true story of a Prince whose throne was stolen from him, THE BLACK PRINCE is one dull history lesson. For all that it’s worth, the film displays impressive production values. Shot in Punjabi and English.
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