Kundalini Pictures


India 1947. A nation is born. The British have left. For the nation to move successfully to a functioning democracy, more than 500 princely states will have to give up their statehood and join the Indian union. It will require every political trick and Machiavellian ruse to achieve this.

In this environment Maharaja Hamir Singh, the ruler of the kingdom of Vijaygarh has declared independence and refuses to join the Indian union. This is a problem that the Indian union needs solved and solved quickly. Chander Verma, an Indian union official, is dispatched to Vijaygarh with orders of changing the Maharajah’s mind or eliminating him.

Chander meets Rebecca Morton - a journalist who had covered the war in Malaya (now Malaysia) for the New York Times - as soon as he arrives at the Vijaygarh railway station. She is here in Vijaygarh to cover this potentially politically volatile situation for the Times.

For Chander, the task at hand is going to be a lot more difficult than imagined. Maharaja Hamir Singh or Jimmy as he is fondly called possesses a devilish charm that makes negotiations increasingly complicated and makes it virtually impossible to corner him. A frustration sometimes shared by Rebecca when she sees this side of him during her interviews with Jimmy.

Also, much to Chander’s chagrin and Rebecca’s delight, several twisted characters who seemingly circulate in their own universe inhabit the palace. There is Jeremy Wooding, an English lotus-eater who has been around for so long he may already be a part of Vijaygarh folklore. Jeremy takes an instant dislike to Chander. And of course he is fond of Rebecca. Jeremy’s partner in crime and cohort is Tarashankar Banerjee or Tory as he is usually called. Tory is the Maharaja’s biographer and is writing his memoirs. The only hiccup in this very noble intention being he has written only one chapter in 12 years. Tory’s true talent lies in brewing the perfectly blended cup of tea. A passion he ensures everyone has a chance to share with him. Tory also brews excellent cups of opium tea. Cups of which Jeremy and Tory guzzle with schoolboy enthusiasm and readily share with Rebecca. Jeremy and Tory prove to be of mild amusement to Rebecca and of great irritation to Chander.

Alex, another resident of the palace is a hippie chick before such a thing existed. She’s a free spirited American woman whose sexual essence matches her cosmic one. Her presence in the palace is determined by one and one thing only - Alex’s interpretation of the cosmic energy.

Sebastien is a French painter who has a special bond with the Maharaja. Sebastien truly marches to his own beat. His presence at the dining table is always an open question. But a plate is always laid out for him. Thus is the hospitality of Vijaygarh. Alex and him also share a special friendship and sometimes a little more.

Shailaja a.k.a. Dolly is the Maharaja’s sister and confidante. Her son Vijit a.k.a Victor is the heir to the Vijaygarh throne. Jimmy and Dolly were raised under the watchful eye of Mrs. Wooton their English nanny who lives with them and now supervises Victor’s childhood. Mrs. Wooton’s love for the Maharaja and her maternal instincts towards him have also led to her playing the role of his closest advisor. Not one political move or a social one with political intentions is made without her advice.

Faced with such myriad characters Chander is clearly out of his depth and the Maharaja knows it. The banquets and parties that hold such charm for Rebecca and everyone else blunt Chander’s approach. However in him the Maharaja sees glimpses of a worthy adversary. Are these glimpses all there are to him or is this all Chander is willing to show?

In the midst of this revelry on the surface and political tennis underneath arrives Zhaida, a star of the Indian silver screen and the Maharaja’s sometime lover. While all Dolly has is royal contempt for Zhaida that she can barely contain, Chander has nothing but adulation for her. A longtime fan, the ability to sit down and have a meal with the Zhaida is the chance of a lifetime in Chander’s world.

To make the game more interesting the Maharaja invites the French from Pondicherry. Jean-Pierre and his right hand Philippe arrive with what they believe is a great offer for the state of Vijaygarh; join the French and become a French colony. Not a happy development for the Indian union and just the kind of trump card characteristic of a man like the Maharaja. While in Vijaygarh, the French get completely involved in the social dance of decadence but with a steely purpose - Vijaygarh for France.

Opium Royale is a quiet glimpse into what turned out to be the last days of Indian aristocracy. The film unfolds as a surrealistic, erotically charged comedy of manners playing out in the backdrop of the birth of a nation.




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