Sog.: dalla pièce omonima di Niranjan Pal. Scen.: William Burton. F.: Henry Harris, Emil Schünemann. Int.: Himansu Rai (Shiraz), Enakshi Rama Rau (Selima / imperatrice Mumtaz Mahal), Charu Roy (principe Khurram / imperatore Shah Jahan), Seeta Devi (Dalia). Prod.: Himansu Rai per BIF, Himansu Rai Film, UFA. DCP. D.: 105’.
Shiraz: a Romance of India is a rare and unusual jewel, a silent film filmed entirely in India that survives; the second of three remarkable silents made on location in India by star and producer Himansu Rai (the others are Light of Asia and A Throw of Dice). They were co-productions with major British and a German companies – a common funding strategy in the late 1920s – and were intended by Rai to be the vanguard of a west/east partnership to bring quality films to India. The three films all have some basis in Indian classical legend with Indian cast and stunning use of locations.
For the modern viewer the appeal is the rarity of a sophisticated silent feature film made outside the major producing nations of the West, the gorgeous settings and costumes and the glories of the Mughal palaces and the iconic Taj Mahal. Himansu Rai is a charismatic lead as the humble Shiraz and Seeta Devi (otherwise Renee Smith) smoulders as Dalia the beautiful but deadly courtesan and rival for the prince’s affections.
New score for Shiraz was commissioned by the BFI to sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar: “I could try and be faithful to the period it’s set in, the 17th century; the period it was made, the 1920s; or the period I’m writing in – today. In the end, it’s a mixture of all those things. I try and keep a balance between moments in the film where it feels appropriate to stay quite authentic and allow the Indian instruments to play in a traditional way. But elsewhere I want it to be more a film experience and to make the music more immersive so people become more involved in the film. Shankar’s orchestra is a mixture of Indian and western instruments: her own sitar, bansuri (bamboo flute) and percussion for the Indian colour, plus violin, cello, clarinet and keyboards for the more expansive filmic moments.