The granddaughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last ruler of the Sikh Empire, had been gifted the use of Faraday House at Hampton Court Palace as a grace and favour home by her godmother of Queen Victoria. The dynamic campaigner and suffragette went on to live there for most of her life.
Anita Anand, the author of the biography ‘Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary’, said: “As the last princess of the Sikh Empire, goddaughter of Queen Victoria, society darling and fashion icon, a life of comfort and celebrity was hers for the taking, but she chose a harder path.
“Using her international fame and influence, putting herself in physical danger, she fought for the rights of women to vote. Campaigning with unrelenting ferocity, loyalty and selflessness, she moved the dial.”
Furnished to her luxurious taste, the house – or “Apartment 41” as it was then known – was Princess Sophia’s base during the many years she campaigned for women’s voting rights. English Heritage hopes that the Blue Plaque will help ensure that she is firmly established in the pantheon of great campaigners for women’s suffrage.
British Sikh historian Peter Bance, author of ‘Sovereign, Squire and Rebel: Maharajah Duleep Singh & the Heirs of a Lost Kingdom’, said: “I came upon the story of the Princess when I was researching her father Duleep Singh at a time when no one had heard about her. It was as if her story had been erased from history. But once a forgotten Princess, she has now become an icon.”
Bance is also behind a new film project to bring the story of the princess to the big screen, with ‘Lioness’, which was launched at the Cannes Film Festival this month and celebrated at the Blue Plaque launch event at Hampton Court Palace last week.
The UK-India co-production will be written and directed by Indian filmmaker Kajri Babbar and star British Indian actor Paige Sandhu as the princess and also star Edmund Kingsley in a key role (pictured above).
Babbar, who has been researching the subject and developing the screenplay for the past three years, said: “I stumbled upon the story of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh during the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect program at the University of Cambridge in 2019.
“We are determined to ensure that we employ as many women as possible in all roles and responsibilities in the film's making. I have come to realise that today, if I have the right to vote in my country, it’s because of this British Sikh woman, Sophia Duleep Singh. The ‘Lioness’ will roar again soon, watch out for her.”
The film will tell the story of two British Sikh women living in the UK. The first, set in 1900s, is about the Suffragette Princess Sophia and the second, set nearly a century later in 1990s, a fictional tale of Mehek Kaur (played by Bollywood actor Aditi Rao Hydari) – an immigrant woman married in Southall. Mehek discovers the story of Princess Sophia, which sets her off on a journey of self-discovery.
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Harjinder Kang, UK's Trade Commissioner for South Asia, said: "It is fantastic to see the first official project under the India-UK co-production treaty getting underway.
“There is huge potential for deeper collaboration between the creative industries of both our countries. I'm pleased that the very first project under this initiative is one that explores an aspect of the unique living bridge that connects our people."