The Black Prince

The Black Prince

Posted to Facebook by Amandeep Singh Madra

22 July 2017

The Black Prince is pure entertainment, I get that, and I am sure that it does entertain brilliantly. But film does have a massive influence over perceptions of historical figures. This film, and many other fan-boy biographies have cast Duleep Singh as a tragic hero, a Punjabi nationalist, a good family man and (absurdly) even a proto-anti-imperialist.

In reality Duleep Singh was like every other Indian royal of his generation; spoiled, disconnected from people, deeply self obsessed, grotesquly self-indulgent and politically naive in the face of Imperial Britain.

Here, with his wife and six children, he is the complete family man. However, in reality, very shortly after the event depicted in this scene Duleep Singh completely abandoned his family in London without any means to maintain them. He moved into Parisian apartment with one of his ongoing mistresses.

His family, now penniless, was reduced to begging for money from the government. His wife (Bamba) who was completely unsupported turned to alcohol for relief, old friends took in the now confused children, while Bamba, neglected, humiliated and totally abandoned by everyone around her drank herself to an early death within a year.

Duleep Singh the family man ?

Any reading of his letters betrays his total obsession on the return of his wealth as opposed to some kind of desire for a return of Punjabi rule. He bankrupted himself in England and only at that point turned to an agenda for the return of his wealth and property. Duleep Singh the frustrated King ?

His return to the Sikh faith was short-lived and undoubtedly purely political. He was used by the deeply political Sandhanwalias who had lost their position of nobility and influence with the end of Sikh Raj (remember these were the same cousins who treacherously murdered Duleep Singh’s brother Sher Singh and his son).

His Khalsa initiation in Aden was part of his hopelessly naive attempt to return to India. When he returned to Paris he clearly abandoned his very brief interest in being Sikh; he cut his hair, drank and never wrote a word about his faith. He died leaving a will that quite clearly demanded to be buried. Duleep Singh the Sikh ?

If there is a golden thread that runs through his life, it is that he was used by those around him; by his mother for her own legitimacy, by his cousins as a rallying point for their political ambition, by the British as a fig-leaf for their humanity, by evangelicals to Christianise India, by Queen Victoria to humanise imperialism, by British nobility as an Indian bauble, by his cousins to regain their status, by Fenians and Russians to poke Britain in the eye.

Even after his death his rotting body, buried (as was his wish) is being used by a Sikh ‘heritage’ group for a grand political tamasha by retuning his decomposed body to Amritsar for cremation. He continues to be used even in death.

The real Duleep Singh is much more interesting than the very simplistic, anodyne character depicted in art.

The one very serious objection I have of this film is the choice to cast Bamba using a white actress while the real Bamba was mixed race. Duleep Singh met Bamba when she was 15 years old, she was the illegitimate child of a German and one of his Somali/Eritrean servants.

Bamba was dark skinned, half-caucasian half-Somali, and the film makers have very deliberately chosen a white actress because they couldn’t stomach their hero being seen to marry a dark skinned half-African.

Depicting Duleep Singh as a political hero is an artistic decision, casting Bamba as white underlines Indian racism towards Africans, and I think is completely inexcusable.

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 4:55 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. This is almost same what I had written about Daleep Singh in my work SIKH HISTORY IN 10 VOLUMES.

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