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EXIT BREXIT

Exit Brexit is the new catch phrase with a recent film sprinkling wishful thinking across certain quarters, writes Subhash Chopra.

EXIT BREXIT

Exit Brexit has become a new catch phrase gaining currency in certain quarters. First, it was Sir Vince Cable, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, who in his capacity as the party leader called into question the very idea of Britain quitting the European Union. Now he is joined by London Mayor Sadiq Khan holding out the possibility of a second referendum on the issue.

Brexit, the Labour Mayor argues, could be legitimately stopped if the Labour party made such a choice as part of its manifesto at the next election or committed itself to a second referendum. Such a manifesto offer could "trump" the result of last year's referendum. But for such a move to have credibility, the issue would need to be spelt out clearly. "You'd have to spell out, in black and white, what we'd do if we won the (next) general election. What would trump the (last) referendum result is us having a manifesto offer saying we would not leave the EU, or we would have a second referendum," he stressed.
But the Labour party has many voices, as does the ruling Conservative party. The view currently upper most in public circles is how to get on with Brexit, having made the choice last year. Labour's Shadow Chancellor Jon McDonnell and Shadow Brexit Secretary have publicly favoured staying in the EU single market and customs union contradicting party chief Jeremy Corbyn.
Equal confusion prevails in Conservative party with Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis saying that the free movement of workers would come to an end in March 2019 while Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd have said that EU migrants would not stop coming till 2022, though they may have to register for entry. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May, not sure of her own position, is away from it all -- on holiday.
Among the Asian diaspora, the film The Black Prince is gaining currency. The theme of the historical and period film The Black Prince is richly evocative of the life and times of Maharaja Duleep Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of Punjab) is making the rounds across Britain. The family's fall from fortune -- from the awe-inspiring rule of Ranjit Singh to the pitiful ascendance of the boy king as a ruler at the age of five -- is a truly touching tale, worth a powerful film.
Duleep Singh's removal -- abduction – and conversion to Christianity with love and care amid opulence and indulgence is a story of which the empire and the conquered subject could both look back with a sense of pride. Queen Victoria who affectionately took the boy prince under her wings was more than generous to her Black Prince when she granted the young prince his wish to see his mother and eventually brought her to the British shores and even drank tea with her. It was a gesture almost beyond comparison – imagine two Imperial women vying for the affection of the same young man!
Alas, such a powerful story has simply been lost in the current film showing all across Britain and the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan. Writer/Director Kavi Raz had the right idea delivered the wrong way. The choice of singer-songwriter Satinder Sartaaj as lead actor Duleep is simply inappropriate. The man does not speak like the Prince. There is no anger, no impatience, and no fire in him. The 'Lion in the heart of the boy' promised early in the film simply does not roar.
Duleep, by all historical accounts, was a sturdy young man, fond of hunting and game shooting at the sprawling Elveden Hall estate in Suffolk, British countryside. Not a weakling, brooding character weighed down by loss and sorrow all the time.
When the film came to the deeply emotional episode of mother and son (Rani Jindan and Duleep) meeting after years of separation, both actors were less than equal to the occasion. Shabana Azmi as mother Jindan started well by portraying an old and frail mother unable even to clearly see her son due to poor vision caused by long years of unbearable separation. But once the two had touched hands, one would have expected them to caress and hug each other. Yet nothing happened. No all-consuming embrace, no kisses or tears of joy at the reunion. No words like "My puttar (son), my Lal" -- any Punjabi mother's utterance from her heart strings.
Even an experienced actor like Shabana failed. She should have asked the Director Kavi Raz to enhance the script with sorely needed additional words and gestures. Amanda Root as Queen Victoria was not much more than adequate. Victoria and Rani Jindan's brief meeting over a cup of tea too was controlled. Here were two women, indeed two Queens, vying for the affection of the young Prince Duleep, yet no eye movement, no vibes.
And of course, there was a glaring historical omission. The Punjab of Duleep's father Maharaja Ranjit Singh was an overwhelmingly Muslim majority area and he was the leader of all communities, not just the Sikhs. Some of Ranjit Singh's closest ministers, including his personal physician, were Muslims. The court language of his domain which stretched from Khyber to the banks of Sutlej, if not more in several directions, was Persian – not Gurmukhi, Hindi, or Urdu. Sadly his legacy and Duleep's heritage are shown to be bereft of any Muslim contribution.
Today Punjab's heritage seekers include the Punjabi diaspora in Britain, including prominent members of parliament. Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall and chair of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group, has offered to explore the idea of taking the remains of Duleep Singh from Suffolk where he is buried, back to Punjab. He is hopeful that his parliamentary colleagues in Britain would support the move.
Coming back to the film of the moment; had the director, producers and actors read the beautifully written and touching little novel, The Exile, by Navtej Sarna, India's Ambassador to the USA, or read Khushwant Singh on Punjab's history, it could have been a much better film, doing justice to the film makers and film goers. A pulsating, soulful life story reduced to a card board production.
(Subhash Chopra is a freelance journalist and author of 'India and Britannia – an abiding affair'. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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