I’ve been waiting to see this movie for a while, after seeing that We Are One was putting it on YouTube for free I watched it as soon as I could.
Set in 17th century during the time of the Mughals the story tells of Shiraz who was found as a child in the aftermath of a raid. He is brought up as a humble potter and grows up with and falls in love with Selima who is kidnapped by slavers and taken to Prince Khurram’s palace. Shiraz goes to rescue her, while Selima is slowly becoming the Prince’s favourite and his formerly favoured Lady Dalia becomes jealous of Selima.
Shot entirely in India this silent film is a landmark of beauty and cultural appreciation. And it is a beautiful movie, with grand palaces, high budged costumes and a romance at the heart of it. Directed by Franz Osten, a German filmmaker, this film is one of his many collaborations with the studio Bombay Talkies as well as the notable actor and director Himanashu Rai. The film is a collaboration between Britain, Germany and India.
For this restoration the composer was Anoushka Shankar, who adds sitar’s and other classical Indian instruments, perfectly capturing the scene and the characters’ moods within her compositions. It is lovely to listen to and adds so much to the movie.
Shiraz is played by Himanasu Rai who makes an earnest performance as a man who only wants to take Selima back with him. Even though he is technically the hero of the story he doesn’t get that much focus when the plot moves to the Mughal court. One could say that he may be the title character, but his beloved is the true protagonist of the movie.
Enakshi Rama Rau as Selima is perfectly unpolished and the black and white film shows her dark skin beautifully. Her smile is captivating and as Selima goes from the simple village girl to be a part of the Prince’s court she blossoms even in finery and starts to realise what she wants in life. She is, after all, our protagonist, the one who goes on the journey and grows and changes and finds love (though in questionable circumstances).
As our Prince Khurram, we have Charu Roy who exudes kindness and authority. He is the truly romantic one, handsome, charismatic who truly makes your heart flutter whenever he interacts with Selima. The chemistry between him and Enakshi is so soft and gentle that when the end comes you truly believe their love story.
But, besides the lovely couple, the biggest star of the movie is Seeta Devi as Dalia, the star of Indian silent film. One can see why as her eyes widen and her breath quickens as she hears of the Prince’s favour towards Selima. Her melodramatic acting steals the scenes she is in. She might be the “vamp” but she is sympathetic even when she does her scheming.
The film itself is a clear masterpiece with its stunning visuals and costumes. And oh, forget about those censoring ‘no kissing’ taboo rule, because it certainly is not taboo here when Selima is kissed by the Prince, quite well I would say. The film also shows many instances of Muslim prayer, done beautifully and respectfully. It might be a simple act, but when today the act of a Muslim praying is hammered down with evil music or with lighting to show the evilness of it in both Indian and Western media in recent years, this honest show of it in this film truly is heartwarming.
The film does have that faint Orientalism feel to it with the slave kidnappings, plots and schemes, but mostly with its music, authentic costumes and using Indian actors the film does seem to make it clear that this is an Indian movie with its many cast of characters and romanticised Indian history within the plot. But this film hardly claims historical accuracy to begin with, in its heart is a romance in India set in a fantasy version of history
Thank you for reading!