Shakespeare on Indian screen

Print edition : June 10, 2016

“INDIAN Shakespeares on Screen”, a four-day festival celebrating Indian cinema’s connect with the bard, was held from April 27 to 30 at Asia House and the BFI Southbank in London. This section was curated by Thea Buckley, Koel Chatterjee, Varsha Panjwani and Preti Taneja. The festival consisted of talks, screenings, workshops and Indian Shakespeare movie memorabilia.

On April 27, under the theme “Shakespeare meets Bollywood”, there was a discussion on “The Bhardwaj Trilogy”— Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkara ( Othello) and Haider ( Hamlet)—with the film-maker Vishal Bhardwaj and his three scriptwriters. The discussion focussed on how they were able to provide a context to Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary India, especially in the contested region of Kashmir. The BFI Southbank screening of these three films also provided the space to understand the hitherto unsuspected background into which one can graft the Shakespearean plays. The Mumbai mafia world was the setting for Maqbool, and the discussion was titled: “Macbeth meets the Godfather in—where else?—present-day Mumbai”. They looked at the caste system in Othello. Haider was pitched as an incendiary Hamlet set in the mountainous chill of Kashmir.

Asia House was the venue for the screening of Jayaraj’s Malayalam version of Othello, Kaliyattam (1997) using the traditional Theyyam performance as the background.

Koel Chatterjee and Preti Taneja, in a special article for Sight and Sound magazine, wrote: “Working within mainstream commercial film industries, [Aparna] Sen, Jayaraj and Bhardwaj not only approach Shakespeare as original material through which they can hold a mirror up to the world, they also open up new ways of interpreting the original texts within more modern contexts. They break with the tradition of Indian Shakespeares on screen by adapting full texts rather than merely referencing the plays, and by delving into the tragic genre, a category that is rare in Indian literature and art. They do this perhaps because times have changed—perhaps this is a post-postcolonial world and the genre of the Shakespearean tragedy, unlike others, including realist film, provides the structure and distance to mourn the loss of the recent past—lost due to the homogenising effects of globalisation.”

A.S. Panneerselvan

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