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Shiraz - A Silent Film

Bollywood's history is vast, and to keep it alive, organizations like Third I showcase films like Shiraz. Read on...
by Peta Cooper

Shiraz - A Silent Film

A milestone took place at the San Francisco 7th annual film festival, they finally brought in an Indian silent film to show to the audience. This is the first time the festival has shown a silent Indian film. The film Shiraz was presented by Third I, a local non-profit organization that promotes South Asian films and filmmaking classes throughout the Bay Area. Along with the Indian Consulate of San Francisco.

Ivan Jaigirdar, one of the founders of Third I spoke before the film. You could tell he was very excited about this milestone and he encouraged the audience members to join Third I and attend their events.

After Jaigirdar spoke, the general of the Indian Consulate Mr. Harihara Subramaniam Viswanathan spoke on behalf of the Consulate. He joked about how contradictory it is to "speak" at a silent film. But he shared the same enthusiasm as Jaigirdar about Shiraz.

Unlike the other silent films, Shiraz was accompanied by live music presented by the students of Ali Akbar Khan school of Indian music from Marin County. It was truly a nice touch and I almost forgot it was a silent film because the music blended in so well!

Shiraz is a fiction-based film on the beautiful Taj Mahal. It was made in 1928 and a German version was also made and directed by Franz Osten. It was filmed in Agra, Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Elephanta, and Kolhapur.

The story takes us back to royalty and the first scene you see is robbers attacking a group of royals and the sole survivor is a little girl. A traveling man named Hassan finds the little girl and takes her home. Hassan and his wife adopted the little girl and named her Selima but little did they know she was a part of the royal dynasty. Hassan had a son named Shiraz who was around Selima's age and they grew up together. Years go by and through those years Shiraz develops intimate feelings for Selima but he keeps them all to himself.

Slave owners abduct Selima and she is brought to a slave market. Shiraz goes on a search and he catches up with the abductors but he can't save Selima. She was sold to Prince Khurram's family and ordered to live in the slave quarters. Prince Khurram was enchanted by Selima's beauty and befriended her.

Meanwhile Khurram falls for Selima and Selima falls in love with Khurram. An envious courtier's daughter Lala also loves the prince. Lala's servant finds Shiraz snooping on the grounds looking for Selima. Shiraz is overjoyed when the servant tells him that Selima lives there and she will take him to her. The servant tells Lala about Shiraz, and Lala sees it as a perfect opportunity to set Selima up to show Khurram that Selima doesn't love him.

The legendary Himansu Rai (Shiraz) gets chained up and waits for the elephant to kill him.Shiraz and Selima are at last reunited but their reunion is cut short when Lala brings Khurram up to Selima's chambers. He's outraged to see Selima in the arms of another man. He throws Selima in jail and orders Shiraz to be chained and have an elephant crush him to death. In all this chaos, one of Khurram's guards comes forward with a pass that was given to Shiraz. It had the servant's signature and Lala's signature too, which let Shiraz in the palace chambers. Finally the Khurram realized Lala set up Shiraz and Selima. He orders Selima out of jail and has Shiraz set free. Lala poisons her servant but Khurram banishes Lala from the palace.

Khurram swallows his pride and asks Selima if she loves Shiraz. She confesses that she only loves Shiraz as a brother but loves Khurram with all her heart. One of the royals spots a very unusual necklace Selima had always worn. He said that necklace belonged to a royal dynasty that was wiped out years ago. The pieces finally come together and Shiraz is shocked that Selima actually has noble blood in her.

Khurram and Selima marry and he becomes Emperor Shah Jahan and she becomes Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Shiraz never forgets Mumtaz, in fact he spends the rest of his life watching her and he cries so much that he becomes an old blind man.

Mumtaz later dies and Shah wants to have a beautiful monument dedicated to his beloved wife.

Although Shiraz was blind, Mumtaz' beauty was engraved in his mind. He took henna paste and designed a model of the Taj Mahal. When the model was brought to Shah, he became outraged and ordered Shiraz' eyes to be removed. The guards told Shah that Shiraz was already blind so there was no point to removing his eyes. He finally calmed down and realized that Shiraz didn't mean any harm but he genuinely cared about Mumtaz. The finest builders in India came to Agra and built the Taj Mahal, which would be admired by millions all over the world.

For more info on Third I, check out www.thirdi.org.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Feel free to send Peta an e-mail @ Peta Cooper.

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