Maharaja Ranjit Singh is the legendary Sikh king and warrior whose tales have inspired generations. His son Duleep Singh, heir to the Kingdom of Punjab, had quite the contrasting story to his father’s. He was abducted from the throne by the British when he was just 5 years old. Later he was shipped off to England to keep him away from his revolutionary mother. He was also reportedly the last Indian owner of the Kohinoor diamond. The Black Prince is the story of Duleep Singh. His travails and trials make a dramatic tale. But this great story is squandered with some lackluster and indulgent filmmaking by director Kavi Raz. It still tells a good story, but the screenplay and the treatment aren’t too impressive.
Popular Punjabi musician and singer Satinder Sartaaj plays Duleep Singh. He’s dressed like British nobility for most parts. He lives in fancy English estates and castles. Queen Victoria (Amanda Root) looks after Duleep Singh like his own. She entrusts Dr Login (Jason Flemyng) with his upbringing. British propaganda forces Login to raise the Sikh King as a Christian. Most of the parts of the first half of The Black Prince are spent on fancy estates and decked up castle rooms screaming of opulence and nobility. But the young King is forever restless, plagued by dreams of his childhood abduction and violence. Things take a dramatic turn when he meets his mother Rani Jinda (Shabana Azmi) after many years. Her brief presence and death force Duleep to question his place in the British nobility. He starts resonating towards his Sikh roots and tries to break free from his opulent exile.
The Black Prince has the right ideas. It portrays Duleep Singh as a confused youth desperately searching for his identity. When he finally understands British politics and its ramifications on the Kingdom of Punjab, he decides to rebel. He runs away, plots a rebellion with Irish and French revolutionaries too. And his quest for meaning and relevance makes The Black Prince historically relevant. But the writing of the film is severely unimaginative. Neither does it furnish too many details of Duleep’s personality, nor does it manage to flesh out any of his relationships. His first wife Bamba Muller appears out of nowhere and is turned into furniture in no time. Duleep’s relationship with his children remains superficial in the film too. His quest to break the British shackles and reach India has been chronicled with detail in the film. But that emotions around this story never hit you at all.
Satinder Sartaaj’s performance as melancholic Indian struggling to fit into the British nobility is good. But the character just does not get a single scene where the actor can break from the monotonous gaze and leave a lasting impact. Shabana Azmi though, in a brief role, creates an air of superlative drama. She brings confusion, hope, despair and even some humour in her brief spell. Rup Magon, plays Duleep’s aide to great effect. But The Black Prince is not about its actors. The story and the lavish production design are the centerpieces of this movie. Sadly though, neither feature of the movie creates the impact that the subject deserved. The film does take some liberties while projecting the subversive political tactics of the British Empire. They even have Queen Victoria apologize to Duleep for literally ruining his life. Right at the end, when reality comes crashing onto Duleep breaking his spirit and soul, the film does manage to gather some momentum. But it’s a classic case of too little too late. While The Black Prince could’ve been a compelling real-life inspired drama, it strictly manages to stay average fare.