Beautifully restored by the BFI, this silent premiered as the Archive Gala at the LFF last year when Anoushka Shankar premiered her new score for the film with a live orchestral performance.
I wish I’d seen it then, but at least I can now revel in the big screen release of the film, with the music, which looks and sounds wonderful. Restored from a 1928 print, it’s an epic tale of a stolen princess who is loved by two men, one a powerful Prince, the other (the titular Shiraz), the son of a village potter. The film, rather fancifully, has it that this was the love story and unrequited passion that lead to the building of the Taj Mahal.
There are battles, deserts, horses, big crowd scenes, slave markets and a death by elephant’s foot. The film is surprisingly exciting, often cruel, ravishingly shot, and boasts two pretty raunchy kisses for a piece of that era.
But it’s Anoushka’s score that hauls it into the modern, with her beguiling mix of classical Indian sounds and ragas blending with more Western elements, sometimes enchanting with its sitar runs, or finding a vampish groove as emotions stir. It’s funky, romantic and sweeping and you can’t take your ears off it the whole time you watch the screen. Her father Ravi, who composed the famous score to Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali back in 1955, would have been proud.