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THE BLACK PRINCE - Shabana shines in this slow paced yet important documentation of a lesser-known historical chapter. (Review By Bobby Sing)

25 Jul, 2017 | ALL ABOUT INSPIRED MOVIES / Inspired Movies (Alphabetical) / T / Movie Reviews / 2017 Releases

Films revolving around important lesser-discussed historical characters ought to be made, their stories need to be told and their struggles needs to be revealed to the present young generation in the best possible manner. Thankfully a film has been made by director Kavi Raz bringing forward the life-story of last King of Punjab, Maharaja Duleep Singh titled THE BLACK PRINCE. But it might appeal more to the people already known to this particular chapter of the history in comparison to others. 
Released in three languages English, Hindi and Punjabi (with the latter two being dubbed versions), the film certainly deserve praises for its noble intention, effort and spirit behind the noticeable making.  However I wish the execution was much more involving reaching out to the people beyond Punjab and the Punjabis living abroad. Having said that, it still remains nothing short of a big achievement for the historical chapter of KHALSA RAJ getting adapted for a reputed Hollywood production reaching out to a much wider audience. 
Presented as an emotional account of the life of Maharaja Duleep Singh set in the 19th century, THE BLACK PRINCE follows the typical pattern and style of a major Hollywood historical specifically keeping in mind the international festival circuit. The viewers of Punjabi cinema in India and abroad are certainly going to feel emotionally attached to the film and its religious references. But the same might not be true for the audience unfamiliar with the history and its characters putting it in honest words.
Beginning with a brief narration about Sikh empire established in the Indian subcontinent by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and its tragic end, one doesn’t really mind the snail-paced story progression till you have Shabana Azmi on the screen excelling in her key scenes.  But once she goes out of the narration, the drag begins and the film struggles to hold your interest with a complex and lackluster second hour. In short, the Prince returning to India, visiting other parts of the world, making unsuccessful efforts to regain his lost empire and then remaining all alone in the end losing hope, makes a lesser impact than desired in its onscreen presentation. 
Director Kavi Raz decently manages to recreate the era with a worth mentioning contribution coming from his art and technical department. But these appreciable aspects do not get the required support from its screenplay. The frames are fine, the colours are royal and a couple of tracks along with a subtle background score sound soothing. Still the narration doesn’t offer any energetic appealing moment in its concluding hour. And thus THE BLACK PRINCE ends up as a reasonably satisfactory film made on a potent historical premise featuring a talented cast ensemble. 
As a debutant, getting a rare opportunity due to his already established name in Punjabi music and literature having a huge fan following, Satinder Sartaj tries his best with all sincerity making a spirited effort. Becoming the first singer-turned-actor of Punjabi Cinema straight away making his debut in a Hollywood film, Sartaj truly shines in the attire of a celebrated Prince, but his on-screen persona gets severely affected by the continuously changing appearance and the accent. 
Sartaj’s best scenes are the ones where he is together with the veteran Shabana Azmi and these are exactly the moments where the film is at its peak grabbing your entire attention. Playing Maharani Jind Kaur, Shabana is simply brilliant and looks like enjoying speaking her dialogues in Punjabi, particularly in the scenes where she is confronting Sartaj’s English guardian and the Queen (sipping the welcome tea). Both Jason Flemyng and Amanda Root do a very fine job as the British characters and so does Rup Magon playing the Prince’s close friend and associate. Still its Shabana Azmi who can unarguably be called the bright light in an otherwise less engrossing film progressing at a slower pace. 
In addition here are a few points that will further explain why THE BLACK PRINCE is partially convincing yet and an important historical film having its heart in the right place.
A. It is the real story of a struggle for a lost empire by a Sikh Prince - that needed to be more descriptive to impress and enlighten the unaware viewers not familiar with the existence and the impact of the KHALSA RAJ.
B. The most important scene of the film lacks the attention and detailing required. And that’s the first meeting sequence of the mother and son seeing each other after many years. The scene desperately required a well-written, descriptive conversation making a solid impact. In the present form, it will surely connect with the people already well-versed with the history and importance of this crucial meeting.

C. The prince returning back to his religious roots getting baptized as a Sikh will be cherished by many watching the film with their utmost devotion. However I wish the director had taken an extra care in showing the visible transformation of the character post this vital insertion. 

D. The reference of Kohinoor in the first half reminds you of every precious thing taken away by the British during their rule in the subcontinent.

E. Though the film doesn’t score much in depiction of personal relationships between its various characters, it at least introduces young generation with the names they might not have read about or even heard before.

F. Post the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the win over Punjab crushing the KHALSA RAJ was a major triumph for Britishers as they desperately wanted Punjab under their reign. However the so strong impact of the secular Sikh Empire during the British rule doesn’t get conveyed strongly in the film to a layman viewer.

G. As the end credits start rolling, one does feel a deep regret and concern for Duleep Singh buried there in the foreign land as per the Christian rituals. Quite possibly, this might retrigger an old debate of his cremation that still needs to be done as per the Sikh rites.

H. The best feature of the film is that it enlightens the new generation about some key historical figures without going for any gimmick in a highly authentic manner, remaining its biggest contribution to be honest. 
So looking from this particular angle THE BLACK PRINCE definitely serves a purpose of being an important informative film that might influence young minds to dig more into this fascinating chapter of history reading books or other authentic reference materials. 

As a film THE BLACK PRINCE is by all means much better than the recent attempts to portray Sikh history on screen like SAKA – THE MARTYRS OF NANKANA SAHIB.

But I personally expected a lot more from it in cinematic and execution terms because of the Hollywood set-up. Anyway, it still deserves to be given a chance appreciating the effort made and the youngsters should ideally consider watching this film as their first step towards gaining more knowledge about the Maharaja, his KHALSA RAJ and the story of Sikh empire being cleverly crushed by the Britishers and their British Raj.

(The article also got featured in UC-News app in July 2017)
Shared below are views - Beyond the initial review with more interesting insights.
Films made on such lesser-known historical chapters have a certain cultural value that duly compensate for the missing cinematic appeal in the final product. In other words, despite having its shortcomings THE BLACK PRINCE successfully makes you aware of some crucial historical events of the past that many of the youngsters might not have even heard of, as they are not included in the history books compiled for the students at the school level.
So moving beyond the points mentioned in the detailed review (at the link given above) here is a concluding thought about the way Indian history needs to be taught to the young students.
The KHALSA RAJ/SIKH EMPIRE of Maharaja Ranjit Singh has its own political and moral importance and is one of the most significant chapters of Indian subcontinent’s history that should ideally be there in the concerned chapters of the school books.
Similarly the unparalleled contribution of Guru Tegh Bahadar (also given the honour as ‘Hind Di Chaadar’) and Guru Gobind Singh also needs to be there in the syllabus of middle level classes rightly informing the youth about the earliest sacrifices and revolts made against the invaders of the Indian subcontinent without any personal motive or religious agenda.
But unfortunately, this information about the last Sikh Gurus and the brave Sikh Generals largely remains missing in the history school books in India stressing more upon the later part of the independence struggle in the early 20th century. 
Wonder why they are not considered as an integral part of the Indian history by many learned scholars preparing these school books?

Rating : 3 / 5 (including additional points for its informative value and the adorable Shabana Azmi)

Tags : The Black Prince Review by Bobby Sing at Bobbytalkscinema.com, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikh Empire, Khalsa Raj, Satinder Sartaj Debut Movie, Hollywood movie on Maharaja Duleep Singh
25 Jul 2017 / Comment ( 0 )
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