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Upcoming Hollywood Film, ‘The Black Prince’ Explores The Life Of Maharaja Duleep Singh, Aditya Rishi Talks To its Writer-Director Kavi Raz

They didn’t hang him. They didn’t imprison him. The British East India Company reserved its scariest punishment for the Black Prince. It would make his Indian blood turn “white”.

Duleep Singh, the Black Prince of Perthshire, was the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, who came to power at 5, was exiled to Britain at 15, and was kept away from his mother and heritage for years. In England, they converted him to Christianity and gave him all the corroding comforts of a western life to kill his identity.

We know that the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh died in Paris and all his eight children died without legitimate issue, ending the direct line of the Sikh royalty. The boy king is back alive in Hollywood feature film `The Black Prince’, starring Sufi singer Satinder Sartaaj as Maharaja Duleep Singh and Shabana Azmi as his mother, Maharani Jinda. Writer-director Kavi Raz says the work speaks what’s left unsaid even in comprehensive documentaries such as PS-Narula-directed `A Monument of Injustice’ (2007) and Gurinder Chadha‘s 2005 film for BBC2.

What different story on the Black Prince do you have? Why another film on him? What fascinates you about the subject?
The Black Prince is a narrative feature film, made for a Hollywood budget by a Hollywood company. It tells you the complete story of Maharaja Duleep Singh. It goes into his psyche, his inner being, his personal as well public struggles. Producer Jasjeet Singh bought me on as writer-director when Brillstein Entertainment Partners picked up the project to produce. I found an immediate connect to the story, as I am also a Sikh who grew up in England.The maharaja’s struggle to find his true self and, upon the realization, his fight to reconnect with his past and his faith against all odds, fascinated me.

What were your research challenges?
What sources do you employ?

Years of research go into the film.However, almost everything written on Maharaja Duleep Singh is very fact-based. There’s nothing out there that talks about his heart and soul. I was making a film, not another documentary. I had to pour over volumes of literature to etch out my protagonist, create his inner workings from my conclusions of his cut-and-dry life as found in literature.

How true is ‘The Black Prince’ to history?It’s very true to history, and villains and heroes are not painted in black and white. Preconceived notions may influence your conclusion about who the real villains were. The British had a lot to do with the disintegration of the powerful Sikh Kingdom of Lahore. But they cannot be blamed entirely for the creation of the British India Empire. Our own people had a lot to do with it. Otherwise how could a hundred thousand British rule over a vast sub continent.

Unlike his father, Duleep Singh wasn’t a hero? His is not a glorious chapter of Sikh history. How much of a respect and how much of a sympathy is he going to win after Black Prince? How do you imagine the English audience will take it?
He became a king at 5.

What does a five year old know? He had little to do with the course of his life. Shorn away from his mother at 7, indoctrinated into the faith of his aggressors, and kept away from his culture, his people, and land, he lived a life given to him–very comfortable and provided, which seemed privileged at the time but was just a facade.

His heroism lies in having all that and yet spurning it for the greater good of his countrymen. Whether he succeeded or not is not the question. He tried and put up a valiant fight, all alone. He gave up everything, including his entire family. This film will start a dialogue to look at history from a different perspective.And see Maharaja Duleep Singh in a more favorable light.

 The awakening period of his life, which no one talks about, is fascinating. When the realization dawned upon him about who he was and what the British did to him, he roared like a lion and denounced everything English thrust upon him. He reconverted to his Sikh faith and began his journey towards the freedom of his people and the rest of India. He was first person to raise the slogan of India’s independence, a struggle in which he faced betrayal.
  I believe the English audience will be brave about facing their past. The Black Prince played at the Manchester Film festival, where the largely English audience received it with glowing reviews.

What became of his descendants, his mother, his friendship with Queen Victoria, his daughter Sophia Duleep Singh, who refused to pay her taxes in England until women got the right to vote?
Sophia, like her father, was quite defiant of the British. She denounced England and died in Lahore proclaiming it to be the seat of her father’s kingdom. The Black Prince explores his relationship with Queen Victoria and with his mother he meets after 14 years.

 It is Indian or English history
 Sadly, Indian and English histories don’t differ much on this subject. It almost as if we accepted the distorted history the British thrust upon us. Read more