Anjli Mohindra on Sophia Duleep Singh biopic: “I’ve always wanted to write about belonging”

"I just couldn't stop thinking about her," reveals the Vigil star.

Anjli Mohindra

She’s currently part of the ensemble cast thrilling the nation with BBC One’s nautical drama Vigil, but Anjli Mohindra is also embarking on a writing career – developing a biopic of the prominent suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh.

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Mohindra – who made her writing debut last year with short film The People Under the Moon – has secured a development deal with Urban Myth Films (War of the Worlds, Atlantis) to adapt journalist and BBC presenter Anita Anand’s book, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary.

Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the project, she revealed: “I re-read Anita’s book during lockdown and just sort of became obsessed by the life of Sophia Duleep Singh, who was the daughter of the last Maharaja of North India and was chosen to be one of Queen Victoria’s god-children, because she had a lot of these god-children who were  the fallen princesses and princes of deposed kings and queens, from the empires that got consumed by the British Empire.

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. She just sprung off the page – and huge credit to Anita for drawing all of that stuff out of Sophia’s diaries. She [Singh] is a very witty character and surprisingly progressive in the way that she thought about life and the world. I just fell in love with her a little bit.”

Mohindra wrote a pilot for a series based on Singh’s life on spec, which her agent then sent out to several production companies “I thought the most I’d get out of it would be a cup of tea, and some pointers in in my early writing career,” she explained. “But within three days, they [Urban Myth] had read it, liked it, and offered a deal to develop it, and to option Anita’s book.

“I literally… I’m still unable to process it. This has been the most exciting coup of my career so far.”

Mohindra is now working on redeveloping the pilot episode, after which the series will be pitched to broadcasters and streaming services. “There’s a lot of buzz around it, so hopefully there will be a bit of a battle for it!”

Following her father’s exile to England, Sophia Duleep Singh lived in lived in Hampton Court in an apartment in Faraday House given to her by Queen Victoria. She went on to become one of several Indian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain in the early 20th century.

Sophia Duleep Singh
From second left, Mrs Salter Khan, Sophia Duleep Singh, Lolita Roy and Mrs Bhola Nauth – collecting funds to aid soldiers during World War One.
Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Her story and its themes held a strong personal appeal for Mohindra. “I’ve always wanted to write about belonging,” she explained. “Because I feel like the conversation about representation is [about] feeling accepted, but I want so much more than that. I want to go beyond the feeling of just being included. Actually, our history is to be honoured, because some of the people whose cause Sophia fought for were pivotal in World War One – the British Indian soldiers of World War One – and I feel like that gets forgotten about.

“Someone when I was younger said, ‘Go home! Go back home!’ and that has stuck with me forever. It’s become a little thorn in my side. I want people to understand why this is our home just as much as it is anybody else’s. I think that’s probably what spoke to me the most about her in the book.”

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Anjli Mohindra stars in Vigil, airing Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC One. Visit our Drama hub for more news and features, or find something to watch with our TV Guide.