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Independent film ‘Yadvi’ takes a royal look at women’s empowerment

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‘Yadvi’ is a true story about a dignified princess, daughter of the Maharaja of Patiala

New York-based actress Jyoti Singh plays the lead role in indie film, ‘Yadvi — A Dignified Princess’, an inspiring true story about her royal grandmother, Rajmata Yadhuvansh Kumari, daughter of the Maharaja of Patiala. Photo credit: RVP Productions

Rockville, Maryland, June 13, 2017– ‘Yadvi – The Dignified Princess’, an independent film by Indian-American artistes, marked its Washington premiere with a special screening in advance of the highly acclaimed, annual DC South Asian Film Festival.  As the name suggests, it is the story of a princess, daughter of the Maharaja of Patiala, and it takes viewers on a royal journey through pre-independent India and beyond.

The film was screened Sunday and drew a discerning audience appreciative of independent cinema to the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College.

The film is in English, 107 minutes with songs, and spans a number of genres: drama, biography, history, tragedy and love.  It’s an engrossing story of happiness and heartache.

And it is true to life!  Jyoti Singh, a New York-based actress, director and film maker, plays the lead role, that of her grandmother Maharani Yadhuvansh Kumari (1921-2006).  Jyoti lived with her grandmother, fondly called Yadvi, until the age of 14 and believed she was best suited to portray her character.

‘Yadvi’ highlights a universal issue: women’s empowerment.  “Anyone from that era till today can relate to this film”, Jyoti told us. “It’s an inspiring film about not losing hope when things don’t work out”.

The formal statement of the film reads: “The pure personification of integrity, Yadvi will take you on her journey through the India of kings and queens, of princesses, princes and polygamy.  Her deep internal strength, bolstering her family’s honor, will inspire you”.

Yadvi is the daughter of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (Chandrachur Singh) and his favorite queen, Maharani Vimal Kaur (Charu Vyas).  She is born into a wealthy family, lives her life with humility, grace and fortitude when fortunes change — from riches to rags.

Yadvi inherits dignity and integrity from her father who teaches his children to be strong, resilient and self-reliant.

Actor Chandrachur Singh, best known for his roles in films such as ‘Maachis’,  ‘Josh’, ‘Tere Mere Sapne’, ‘Kya Kehna’, ‘Junoon’, ‘Zilla Ghaziabad’, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, is a powerhouse of talent – a delight to behold.  He brings a larger-than-life, majestic persona ro his role as the benevolent Maharaja of Patiala.  He is a secular ruler, wise, just and fair, and the grief is palpable on his untimely death at the young age of 46.  We miss his screen presence in the second half of the film.

Photo credit: RVP Productions

Following his demise, the idyllic aura of the film dissipates; not the grandeur.  The action now shifts to Maihar.

Upon her brother’s insistence, Yadvi who is betrothed to Yuvraj Govind Singh (Rahul Godara) as a young girl, travels to her husband’s home only to discover he is marrying a Rajput princess, Kanak Kumari (Reshha Sabbarwal).  She suffers in silence with a rare equanimity, refusing to leave her husband’s home.  It takes a while for her philandering spouse to appreciate her true worth.

At her husband’s insistence, she moves to Ranikhet where they have three daughters, and the prince juggles between his two wives, choosing to spend most of his time with Yadvi.  But, not for long: his roving eye falls on the captivating niece of his second wife and he imagines himself in love with her.  The self-respecting Yadvi learns to cope alone, dignity in tact.

“She could have gone back to her maternal home and lived in comfort”, Jyoti said, noting that her father was the first king to own an aircraft, had a fleet of Rolls Royce cars, owned several buildings and contributed to the welfare of society.  Instead, Yadvi chooses to manage on her own, harvesting crops, chopping wood for the harsh winter months and, above all, raising three daughters in a refined manner.

“My grandmother had a charisma”, Jyoti recalled.  “She was unlike anybody I have ever met.  Always positive in the face of adversity.  I never knew of her struggles while growing up in her presence.  She was strict, but never once did she complain.  Hers is a story of dignity, of innate strength, of courage in an era when women hardly had any rights”.  Women should take that as an inspiration and believe they can beat the odds too, she added.

Jyoti’s sister, Gauri Singh Puri, served as the assistant director and script writer while also handling accounts and costumes, She brought considerable expertise to her work as the founder of the North Carolina South Asian Film Festival and Franklin County North Carolina International Film Festival, and having acted in and written the screenplay for award-winning films such as ‘Samosa’ and ‘Welcome to North Carolina’.

About ‘Yadvi’, Gauri informed us, the film has won 21 awards in various categories.  It is currently being screened at film festivals and will be released in India on July 28, and thereafter in the US.

“The film is a cinematic experience highlighting the history, culture, music and art of India”, Gauri said.  “It touches on some of the key issues of the past such as child marriage, dowry, women’s rights, a woman’s acceptance in society and financial dependence on a man, which are still prevalent in modern times”.

For both siblings, the film is a labor of love and they gladly multi-tasked to bring their grandmother’s inspiring story to celluloid.  “It wasn’t easy with a team of fifty people”, Jyoti informed us.  The film was primarily shot in India, in the sweltering heat.  Fortunately, they managed to wrap up the month-long schedule a few days ahead of time.

The film is produced by Sumeet Verma and shot on the sets of a television serial, ‘Maharana Pratap’, which was erected on the border of Maharashtra and Gujarat.  Cinematography by Jigme Tenzing is stunning, and editing by Vick Krishna is crisp and concise, carrying the action forward at just the right pace.  There’s never a dull moment!

Lending an enchanting aura to the film is the music, classical in style, composed by India-based Anuj Garg, and the songs recorded in the melodious voices of multi-talented Chandrachur Singh, Pavni Pandey and Diksha Sati.

At the Washington area premiere of independent film, Yadvi, presented by the DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) and Montgomery College, are seen from left to right: Gauri Singh, director, script writer and actress; Sangeeta Anand, co-founder of DCSAFF; and Nikkitasha Marwaha, actress

Following the screening of the film in Rockville, we caught up with actress Nikkitasha Marwaha who plays a small but pivotal role in the film.

“Jyoti didi (sister, as she fondly calls her) actually gave me the opportunity to choose between two characters – one of them was Kanak, the second wife of Prince Govind, and the other option was the third wife, rather the mistress, Giriraj.  When I read the script, I realized that the third wife had a little more twist to her character, so I actually ended up choosing that”, she told us.

We asked Nikkitasha if she had any misgivings about playing a negative role.  She replied: “I didn’t bother that the character has shades of negativity because you never see her doing any of the things she is accused of, you never see her manipulating him (Prince Govind) until the end.  The character really changes the story around and that’s what is memorable.  I wasn’t bothered by the fact that it was negative because of the impact she has on the entire story, and on Yadvi”, the central figure.

“I think this movie is historically important, emotionally important to generations – old and young”, she said.  “It’s politically important to understand what was happening at that time and how it affects us today”.  Nikkitasha was pleased to be a “part of a movie like that, the fact that it is being screened and appreciated without the Bollywood masala” (a heady mixture of items designed to appeal to all).

“It’s a classy film, it’s gorgeous”, she gushed.  “It’s been presented in a way that touches the heart and it’s cinematically beautiful as well”.

Sangeeta Anand, co-founder of the DCSAFF with her husband Manoj Singh, was charmed by “the look and feel of the film.  It’s a very beautifully made film”, she said.  “Since it’s a true story about Jyoti’s grandmother, the feeling and emotions have really come out”.

The sixth edition of the DCSAFF is coming up on September 8 through 10, and will be held on the Rockville campus of Montgomery College.

“The theme of the festival will be women-oriented”, Anand informed us.  “We have started getting a lot of good films including renowned filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s documentary, ‘Anatomy of Violence’, which is about the Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi”.  The screening will be accompanied by a panel discussion making it a very interesting and informative event.