Shakespeare with a Bollywood twist (Weekly Roundup)September 14th, 2008 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Sep 14 (IANS) While many Hindi films are made up of elements of Elizabethan popular drama, only a handful use them as a base to build more profound perspectives and visions a-la William Shakespeare, the world’s greatest dramatist.Some go to the extent of incorporating the Shakespearian storyline, themes, techniques of composition and even specific sequences. “The Last Lear”, the latest made-in-India English film, brings together acclaimed filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh and Bollywood’s A-list stars Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta for a film where the Bard of Avon is not merely an influence but pretty much morphs into a central character.
Based on Utpal Dutt’s Bengali play “Aajker Shahjahan”, which roughly translates into “Reigning King”, the film has Bachchan, 66, essaying the role of Harry, a theatre actor who has always yearned to play the English playwright’s tragic hero King Lear.
After decades of no recognition and blatant plagiarism, the legendary English poet and writer is finally getting due credit as the inspiration of many Indian cinematic endeavours.
“The Indian filmdom and Shakespeare are inextricably, creatively, most profitably and commercially intertwined and interrelated,” says researcher Amitava Roy.
In the bid to find a foothold in global cinema avant grade filmmakers on this side of the world are opening going to town declaring their films as inspired by the creations of the British dramatist.
While a zillion blockbusters variations of the “Romeo and Juliet” like “Heena”, “Bobby”, “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” and others, some more sublime works have ended up as “Angoor”, “Agnipath”, “Maqbool”, “Eklavya” and “Omkara”.
Adapting Shakespeare’s work to Indian ethos is the latest in thing. After critical acclaim for the “Macbeth”-inspired “Maqbool”, director Vishal Bharadwaj followed up with “Omkara” - based on “Othello” with the badlands of Uttar Pradesh as background.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “Eklavya”, based on “Hamlet” even managed to become India’s official entry for the Oscars. Reports say that in keeping with the other “hot” trend of making sequels, Vishal is keen on yet another Shakespeare-inspired film to complete his trilogy.
He says: “Shakespeare is the greatest storyteller ever. His stories have layers of spectacular human drama. I think they can be adapted anywhere and in any language. I can live my whole life on Shakespeare.”
Some believe even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s staggering tribute to Bollywood in “Bombay Dreams” had a strikingly similar storyline to the “Montague-Capulet” saga. As Naseeruddin Shah, who has done Shakespeare on stage many times and has starred in both “Maqbool” and “Omkara”, said in an interview: “The roots may look lost but every big story in the Hindi film industry is from Shakespeare.”
Saif Ali Khan, who plays the character of Iago in “Omkara”, said in an interview: “In at least 50 Bollywood films, the heroine’s brother kills the hero and in at least 500 films, the hero and the heroine are star-crossed mates. It is ironic then that nobody has actually made a legitimate ‘Romeo and Juliet’.”
Khan is convinced Shakespeare’s fables can be suitably “Bollywoodised”. “If you see, all his plays are completely targeted towards the front benchers. That’s like a perfect fit for our film industry,” he is quoted as saying in an interview.
An analysis claims that what is striking with Shakespearean content the world over is that almost every director or actor who gets involved with one of his creations keeps going back to the Bard for more.
Hollywood filmmaker Laurence Olivier who was involved in a series of Shakespeare adaptations reached a stage when he could speak Shakespeare’s lines as naturally as if he were actually thinking them. Orson Welles, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Burton and Al Pacino and even Japanese master Akira Kurosawa have a whole lot of Shakespeare in their repertoire.
Of course, there’s more to come. There were reports that “My Brother… Nikhil”-maker Onir is keen on adapting “Hamlet” with Hrithik Roshan in the title role. As Onir puts it: “Shakespeare’s plays explore the human psyche and thus are not time-bound. You can take the basic story and reinterpret it to your requirements.”
Business-wise it makes more sense now than it did ever before. The box-office has been just as kind to films made on shoestring budget as to films costing Rs.1 billion. “Aamir” (Rs.40 million), “Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na” (Rs.50 million), “Mumbai Meri Jaan” (Rs.40 million), “Phoonk” (Rs 25 million), “Rock On!!” (Rs.50 million) and now the latest small-budget wonder “A Wednesday” (Rs.40 million) have established that content is king.
There is no better time than now for upcoming films like Shyam Benegal’s “Welcome To Sujjanpur”, Anurag Kashyap’s “DevD” and Tansingh Tomar, Sudhir Mishra’s “Aur Devdas”, Pritish Nandy Corporation’s “Triangular Love Story”, Mukta Art’s “Paying Guest” and “Hello Darling”.
On the other hand, independent filmmakers like National Award-winner Girish Kasaravlli are piloting a business model that hopes to give a fillip to truly niche films like his “Gulabi Talkies”.
Girish has released his film in a single multiplex with a single show with the intention of reaching out to art lovers and then to make money through other avenues like DTH and festival screenings.
This could be the way to go for upcoming offbeat productions like Nandita Das’s “Firaaq”, Ketan Mehta’s “Rang Rasiya”, Shashank Ghosh’s “Quick Gun Murugan”, Atul Sabharwal’s short film “Midnight Lost and Found”. Only wish Santosh Sivan had followed the same route for his “Tahaan”.