'Shiraz: A Romance Of India' [Blu-ray+DVD]
(Himansu Rai, Enakshi Rama Rau, Charu Royet, Seeta Devi, et al / Blu-ray+DVD / NR / (1928) 2019 / Juno Films - MVD Visual)
Overview: Based on the romance between 17th-century Mughal ruler Shah Jahan and his queen, this epic silent film 'Shiraz: A Romance Of India' is the ravishing, romantic tale behind the creation of one of the world's most iconic structures: the Taj Mahal.
Blu-ray Verdict: This intriguing 1928 silent film, now restored by the BFI and released via Juno Films and MVD Visual on Blu-ray, is a startlingly ambitious epic weepie-romance, filmed entirely on location in India – and is of far more than just archival interest.
Taking creative flight from the historical record, it reimagines the story of the Mumtaz Mahal, the 17th-century Mughal empress in India whose death so devastated the emperor that he commissioned the monument to her in Agra, now known as the Taj Mahal.
The film invents a new backstory for the empress: as a little girl she is ambushed with her mother by bandits in the desert and rescued by a family with no clue of her noble identity (although an amulet is to be the proof).
They bring her up as a little sister to their son, Shiraz. In adulthood, Shiraz (played by the film’s producer-star Himansu Rai) remains deeply in love with this girl, named Selima (Enakshi Rama Rau).
When she is kidnapped by slavers and sold into the harem of the emperor, poor Shiraz hangs around the palace gates, trying to gain admittance, even as the emperor falls in love with her and she with him.
Shiraz is threatened with all sorts of punishments and tortures and grows old and blind as a beggar outside the palace – because Selima could only think of him as a brother.
But after her death, he is to achieve a redemption by designing her famed marble mausoleum in a blind, visionary ecstasy. The crowd scenes and the location work in this film are a real marvel, and there is great tenderness to its final act.
As aforementioned, 'Shiraz' was shot entirely on location in India and features lavish costumes and gorgeous settings - all the more impressive in this 2K restoration by the BFI National Archive; which also features a specially commissioned score by the Grammy Award-winning Anoushka Shankar.
Produced by and starring Indian film legend Himansu Rai, the film is performed by an all-Indian cast, featuring Rai as humble potter Shiraz, who follows his childhood sweetheart Selima (Enakshi Rama Rau) when she's sold by slave traders to the future emperor (Charu Roy).
This is a brilliant new 2K restoration Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
• Presented in High Definition and Standard
• Restoration Demonstration (2017, 3 mins)
• Temples of India (1938, Hans M Nieter, 10 mins): Indian travelogue featuring beautiful colour footage of the Taj Mahal shot by Jack Cardiff
• Musical Instruments of India (1944, 12 mins): public information film made by the Government of India to promote Indian arts and culture
• Illustrated booklet with essays by Bryony Dixon, Simon Broughton and Gautam Chintamani
• Silent with English Intertitles
'Shiraz: A Romance Of India' [Blu-ray+DVD] is out August 13th, 2019 via Juno Films / MVD Visual.