The Black Prince: Sikh movie of the century

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The author reviews the movie The Black Prince and bring out its salient features which should prompt every Sikh and friends of Sikhs to see the movie, being screened worldwide in English, Punjabi and Hindi. The author gives it a 5-star rating.

For two engrossing hours, I was in the company of Maharaja Duleep Singh and Maharani Jindan. The journey of Maharaja Duleep Singh from Sikhism to Christianity, his slow, tenacious and serious re-conversion back to Sikhism held me in rapt attention. Maharaja Duleep Singh’s journey as a child from Lahore -the capital of the Sikh kingdom to the portals of the Buckingham Palace. After this movie, every Sikh worth his salt can look straight into an English eye and mention the story of British chicanery.

As a Sikh, I wept through the movie witnessing the fall of Duleep Singh from the richness and grandeur of English aristocracy under which he spent his youth and adulthood till his death in Paris when the British ashamedly relinquished him. Nevertheless, it was not “without a fight”.

The dialogue between the mother and the son, between Maharani Jindan and the Prince are nostalgic of the meeting that took place between the two -away from their kingdom and after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharani Jindan’s gentle emotional outburst that “she not only lost a kingdom, but a son too” has been rendered so adorably that you feel the situation. His quick response to his confidante Rur Singh that “he is not the Prince but the King” is classic transformation.

I felt proud at The Black Prince’s attempts to rope in the French and the Russians to rebel. The fact that he got admirable support from the French and he went all the way to Russia to meet the Czar seeking support for his rebellion against the British is in itself a remarkable feat for the illegally dethroned Maharaja.

Can you imagine an Amrit Parchar (Sikh initiation and re-initiation rites) in France for one person? Perhaps the first one on that soil? Maharaja Duleep Singh gets initiated at a private Amrit Parchar ceremony to become a Sikh. The Black Prince imbibes Sikhism as the words of his mother to live and die as a Sikh resonate in his mind.

Maharani Jindan’s gentle emotional outburst that “she not only lost a kingdom, but a son too” has been rendered so adorably that you feel the situation. His quick response to his confidante Rur Singh that “he is not the Prince but the King” is classic transformation.

The elation on the faces of the Kuka Sikhs in their immaculate white dresses (the predecessors of modern-day Namdharis) after learning that Maharaja Duleep Singh was returning to Punjab to regain back the Sikh rule led me to admire their spirit.

Original painting of The Black Prince

Would you not want to know and see that Maharaja Duleep Singh was not allowed to go to Punjab and had to cremate her mother on the banks of river Saraswati near Nashik in Maharashtra?

How many Sikh leaders would have the courage like Maharaja Duleep Singh, who enjoying the huge luxurious lifestyle of the aristocracy had the temerity to leak and publish documents in the British media about his Sikh roots and embarrass the Queen, who loved his eyes and persona.

How scared were the British of the Sikhs? They poisoned Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia in Pondicherry so that he could not establish live contact with Maharaja Duleep Singh and the French had the good sense and courage to protect him despite repeated requests by the British to allow them to arrest him in the then French colony.

Though the Sikhs cannot ever forgive the British for their deceit, it was comforting to know that it was Colonel Hubron who saved the life of the child Maharaja Duleep Singh. It was remarkably Western to listen to the dying words of regret of his caretaker John Login, who gave him the nomenclature -The Black Prince and the regrets expressed by the Queen during her visit to the ailing Maharaja Duleep Singh somewhere in the south of France.

I felt proud at The Black Prince’s attempts to rope in the French and the Russians to rebel. The fact that he got admirable support from the French and he went all the way to Russia to meet the Czar seeking support for his rebellion against the British is in itself a remarkable feat for the illegally dethroned Maharaja.

You cannot miss the valour of the scion of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when he is practicing his sword skills or when he is conspiring in an underground meeting to overthrow the British empire. His zeal was reminiscent of the spirit of Hari Singh Nalwa who captured Afghanistan and Baba Baghel Singh who conquered Delhi.

I enjoyed, relished and cherished the motherly comfort of Maharani Jindan, her chaste Punjabi -how many today say pyaali for a cup? Sipping tea, she says, “eh pyaalian pehlan dekhian hann. Eh ho hi nahi ne jo tusi chori kar ke lyaye ho.” -meaning, I have seen these cups before, are they not the ones you have stolen?” The metaphoric reference to the Sikh Raaj annexation by the British is eminently brought out in this small dialogue which evokes laughter when The Prince deliberately wrongly translates it for his foster mother the Queen.

For a very long time, after watching Machhis of Gulzar a few times, Tabu the wife of the Sikh militant in the movie was never the actress Tabu, she was the wife of the Sikh militant who dies a martyr to the Sikh cause of rights of the people of Punjab. She entered the Sikh mind that way. Similarly, Shabana Azmi will remain embedded in the Sikh mind as Maharani Jindan for a very long time.

Original painting of Maharani Jindan

The Black Prince is an honest and sincere portrayal of a chapter of Anglo-Sikh history and aspects of Indo-Sikh history in the right perspective. Some years back, I attended a conference on Rising Intolerance in Europe in Cordoba, Spain. I encountered a Jewish artiste who was holding an exhibition in the city, who told me, “Mr Singh, hold a video camera and record the story of your parents’ generation and preserve that for posterity. That would be the first step the Sikhs need to take to tell their children about their past glory.” The Black Prince does exactly that. It tells the Sikhs to look back, reflect and ponder.

I enjoyed, relished and cherished the motherly comfort of Maharani Jindan, her chaste Punjabi -how many today say pyaali for a cup? Sipping tea, she says, “eh pyaalian pehlan dekhian hann. Eh ho hi nahi ne jo tusi chori kar ke lyaye ho.” -meaning, I have seen these cups before, are they not the ones you have stolen?

As I listened to the Queen and Sir Login, I have now developed the habit of referring to Punjab as the Punjab.

As for Sikh consciousness, I repeat the most profound words of the movie. Maharani Jindan tells Maharaja Duleep Singh, “Apni talwar utha te aapna Raaz vapas lai -Raise your sword and reclaim your kingdom”. She is telling this not to her son, she is telling this to me, actually, she is telling this to every Sikh.

Keep your senses awake and see the movie to enliven your Sikh life -to be true Sikhs, rebels and sovereigns. The Black Prince has rekindled interest in my faith, my history, my legacy and my sovereignty. It is your turn now, don’t miss it.

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