Once in an interview Naseeruddin Shah who has done Shakespeare on stage many times exclaimed, “The roots may look lost but every big story in the Hindi film industry is from Shakespeare.” What is interesting in Shakespearean content around the world is that every director or actor who gets involved in one of Shakespeare’s creations keeps going back to the bard for more. Infact filmmaker Laurence Olivier who was involved in a number of Shakespeare adaptations reached a stage when he could speak Shakespeare’s lines as naturally as if as if he were speaking out his own thoughts. Orson Wells, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Burton and even Japanese master Akira Kurosawa has a whole lot of Shakespeare in their repertoire.
Shakespeare has influenced Bollywood Films since the inception of the industry. Some Bollywood blockbusters, including “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak”, were said to be inspired by “Romeo and Juliet”. Likewise, Gulzar’s acclaimed “Angoor” was based on “The Comedy of Errors”. Thus, Vishal Bharadwaj was not the first to have adapted and interpreted Shakespeare in more than one occasion, though his Shakespeare trilogy can be considered the most reputed and celebrated adaptations in Bollywood. The Industry can be called Shakespearesque in its temperament featuring love triangles, comedy, melodrama, star-crossed lovers, angry parents, conniving villains, convenient coincidences and mistaken identities. Here are some films that were adapted from the world famous creations of the Bard of Avon.
“The Comedy of Errors” was adapted through Do Dooni Chaar (Dir. Debu Sen’s; 1968) and Angoor (Dir. Gulzar; 1982). Academics who have written about Shakespeare’s influence in Bollywood have described Angoor as an important work of Indian Shakespeare films in post-colonial India. Though Gulzar was at the helm, half of the film’s genius lay in its casting- the effortlessly brilliant actor Sanjeev Kumar and Devan Verma as the main characters while Moushumi Chatterjee, Deepti Naval and Aruna Irani as supporting actors. As the first commercially successful Hindi Shakespeare film, Angoor not only paved the way for Bhardwaj’s adaptations at the turn of the twenty-first century but also truly brought Shakespeare into the fold of popular cinema in a very deliberate and visible manner.
Sharat Katariya finds his inspiration in the Bard’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for his film “100ml Love”. The director tries his best to adapt it to suit the Indian scenario and mindset. The ‘not-so-shinning’ Mumbai sets the backdrop of the story. Katariya weaves a tale of love, desires and forbidden fantasies around a magic love potion that keeps four parallel stories glued together.
Romance has always been an essential part of Bollywood’s entirety. Infact, they top the list of genres that the industry caters to. And therefore, there was no way Hindi cinema would have missed out the most popular and iconic love story in the world: Romeo and Juliet. Let’s take a look at the most popular and interesting screen adaptations of Romeo and Juliet.
Ek Duje Ke Liye
This movie was a huge commercial success. It gave a new dimension to the way love stories were made in Bollywood. Apart from showing caste differences the film also featured a cross-cultural romance between a Tamil boy and a Goan Girl.
Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
The fact that the number of Hindi films made about star-crossed lovers is surprisingly huge, might have a lot to do with the strong class-divisions in India but it’s hard to miss the films debt to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mansoor Khan had commendably Indianised it and the film shot both Amir Khan and Juhi Chawla instantly to fame.
Habib Faisal gave “Romeo And Juliet” an interesting twist in his film “Ishaqzaade”, featuring Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor. By taking the romance to the remote areas of Uttar Pradesh, Faisal drew a parallel between the Romeo and Juliet tragedy with the burning issue of Khap killing. He addressed inter-religion romance because the girl was Muslim and the boy a Hindu and the fact that they belonged to rival political families added to the drama.
Goliyon ki Rasleela: Ramleela
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, “Goliyon ki Rasleela: Ram-Leela” too, describes a 500-year-old enmity between two clans in a village in Gujarat and the violent tension erupting owing to love blossoming between a girl and a boy from these rival communities. “I have always been influenced by literary works. It is a liberating experience for a filmmaker to make a film on Shakespeare”, said Bhansali in an interview.
Vishal Bharadwaj’s Shakespeare trilogy is one of the most accomplished adaption of Shakespearean literature ever. While love, greed, lust and redemption remain integral to the plot, it is the continuous struggle towards protecting one’s own existence that forms the core of all of Vishal’s stories. It propels the protagonists to do the unthinkable only to realize the truth when it’s too late. Also, all the three films are about existential crisis.
Vishal Bharadwaj’s powerful and intriguing Hindi film Maqbool (2003), is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Bollywood legend Irrfan Khan stars as Macbeth stand-in Maqbool, the right-hand man of powerful crime boss Abbaji (Pankaj Kapur). When Maqbool begins an illicit affair with Abbaji’s beautiful young mistress, Nimmi (Tabu), she convinces her lover to murder his boss and usurp his way to the top of the city’s gangster syndicate. Maqbool is true protégé to Abbaji. He will do anything on his command and Nimmi will go to any extent to bring Maqbool in her embrace. Abbaji is fighting a war for his dominance. Maqbool thinks that he is being sidelined in the entire happening for no reason. So he takes things in his own hand. Here again the two police officers –Pandit and Purohit (Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah) enter. They predict that Maqbool will lose the battle of the power (as were the prophecies of witches in Macbeth). It is interesting to note that here the kingdom of Scotland is being replaced by Mumbai’s underworld and most importantly the witches by two corrupt policemen to contemporize Macbeth.
Following the critical acclaim of Maqbool, Bharadwaj followed it with “Omkaara” based on “Othello”. A half-brahmin continuously fights those who have been ridiculing his caste to gain power over them. His second-in-command forgets years of friendship when what rightfully belongs to him is usurped away by a newcomer only because of differences in their social standing. Here Othello becomes Omkara, Desdemona becomes Dolly and Iago is Iswar Langra Tyagi. The major plot points remain intact in Vishal’s adaptations like Desdemona’s “handkerchief” makes way as Dolly’s “Kamarbandh” but nevertheless remains pivotal to the final doom.
October 2014 marked the release of Haider (the Prince of Denmark in Kashmir) the final film of Bharadwaj’s Shakespeare trilogy. Set in the insurgency-torn Kashmir of 1995, a world much different from that of Maqbool and Omkara, the film tells the story of an idealistic Kashmiri youngster, Haider. This film makes two major departures from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Bharadwaj combines the roles of Horatio (who Hamlet considered his best friend) and Ophelia (Hamlet’s love-interest) in the character of Arshia. By making her a journalist who played an active role in Haider’s life Bharadwaj made Arshia a woman of substance. Secondly the director shows Ghazala (the character modeled on Hamlet’s mother Gertrude) as a conflicted character. Also, the supernatural elements get conveniently replaced with their contemporary avatars (King Hamlet’s “ghost” becomes a man carrying Ghost IDs – aptly named Roohdaar).
Thus we see that when “all the world’s a stage” to the bard, Indian cinema has proven to be no exception.