“He was not of an age but for All time”- the veracity of Ben Johnson’s celebrated comment on Shakespeare is amply validated by India’s long and fruitful tryst with Shakespeare. From the colonial curricula and colonial Indian classrooms to the post- colonial literature, Art, Theatre and finally the world of Celluloid, Shakespeare has inspired and influenced the entire gamut.Initially introduced in Indian curricula for promoting English language, producing small Anglophile elite and representing the essential core values of the Western tradition, Shakespeare today stands indigenized, indianized and transculturated in Indian creative expression.
Be it the early major Indian authors of all languages, the Parsi theatre or India’s cinema, Shakespeare’s impact on Indian literature, culture and popular culture is strongly felt. Relationship between India and Shakespeare is the longest and the most widespread one outside of Europe. It is not mere coincidence that Shakespeare began being performed in India earlier than in Australia, Newzealand or African countries. 1852 onwards all 17 Indian languages have translated Shakespeare and all over the country, especially in the South, smaller towns and universities, some Shakespeare is performed every year in English, in translation or adaptation. As of today, Shakespeare studies have diversified to include so many areas- performance studies, film studies, cultural and intercultural studies, transnational and post-colonial studies.
In India, from the time Shakespeare was introduced, his work was translated, indigenized, adapted and performed. Indian psyche was never hostile or averse to Adaptations or Appropriations of Shakespeare's works. Infact, Adaptation is intuitive and acceptable for Indians as Indian tradition has precedents of numerous retellings ,translations and adaptation of Hindu epics, Arabic and Persian indigenous sources. Christina Mangala Frost has thus pointed out the distinctive reception of Shakespeare in India:
“The ready acceptance of Shakespeare during Raj cannot be adequately accounted for either in terms of cultural crawling or imperialist coercion.”
Infact, there were people in India who were willing to indigenize Shakespeare. Indian context of Shakespeare's reception does not fall in line with Fanonion historical trajectory of reception where whole-hearted emulation of the colonized's culture in the earlier stages is later followed by intense rejection, finally leading to colonized culture's balanced engagement with colonizer's culture. Here we don't hove 'mimic men' but cross-cultural adaptators and transculturators, open to larger process of creating a world vision.
Localizing or indigenizing Shakespeare seems to have brought him closer, made him feel our own and it also facilitates better comprehension of the originals. At times, such an indigenized interaction with Shakespeare has been instrumental in even transforming real lived life. Here I am citing an amazing experience reported by Lindsay Pereira from her conversation with Dr. Poonam Trivedi and Dennis Bartholomesusz, the authors of “India's Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and Performance”. The author reports performance of Kannada adaptation of Macbeth entitled "Maranayaka Drishtranta" by inmates of the Mysore jail in rehabilitation workshop conducted by actor-director Kattimani The prison-actor who played Macbeth narrated his experience how the acting made him see his life very differently and filled him with remorse and repentance. The prisoner was transformed, left on parole for good behaviour and is now a respected member of his village. This is an instance of consequential social and moral transformation and rehabilitation. It also illustrates the close relationship between life and literature and also the purgatory, purifying and elevating impact of Shakespeare's plays.
Besides being a strong influence on literature and theatre,Shakespeare also holds the distinction to be the darling of Indian cinemakers and Bollywood from 1920 till date.
The earliest Indian cinematic engagement with Shakespeare goes back to the silent Era to 'Dilfarosh' (1927) movie based on popular stage adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice”, 'Khoon-e-Nahak' (1928), based on “Hamlet”, 'Mitha Zahar' (1930) based on “Cymbeline”. In the talkies of 30s &40s, translation and transmission of Shakespeare's rhetoric in Urdu was adopted for the screen in 'Hathili Dulhan' (1932- The Taming of the Shrew), 'Khudabad' (1935-Pericles), 'Khoon-Ka-Khoon' (1935-Hamlet), 'Said-E-Havas' (1936- Richard III), 'Zan Mureed' (1936- Antony & Cleopatra), 'Pak Daman' (1970_ Measure for Measure) and 'Zaalim Saudagar' (1941- The Merchant of Venice).
In the post- independence India cinema has emerged as the most powerful Art form of creative expression. In fact, the credit for reviving Shakespeare and making him widely admired goes much more to Indian cinema than Shakespearean critics or scholars .Adapting shakespear's works or Indianzing them is the latest fad and in-thing in today's Indian celluloid world .Since very long Bollywood has been Shakespearesque in myriad ways- Music, dance, diologues, dilemmas, comedy, melodrama, Love-triangles and obstacles ,disguised identities, villains and so on. Some of the famous Indian cinematic engagements with Shakespeare are adaptation of “The Comedy of Errors” in "Do Duni Chaar" (1968) and 'Angoor' (1982). Less explicitly influenced movies based on “Romeo & Juliet “are 'Ishqzaade', 'Isaaq', 'Goliyon ki Ras Leela Ramlila', 'Qayamat se Qayamat Tak' whereas “Twelfth Night “seems to inspire antics in 'Dil Bole Hadippa'.
However, Shakespeare's influence on Bollywood movies has majorly continued to be unacknowledged till recently when Vishal Bhardwaj openly acknowledged Shakespeare as the inspiration and source text for his internationally celebrated cine-trilogy of 'Maqbool' (2003), 'Omkara' (2006) and 'Haider' (2014) based on “Macbeth “,”Othello” and “Hamlet” respectively. Now in the cine-world, it is no more the 'secret plagiarism' of earlier times, but an open acceptance and admiration of Shakespeare's incorporation in post-colonial Indian world. William Shakespeare is India's Heritage too!
Vishal Bhardwaj's adaptations of Shakespeare have received wide critical attention and have been screened at several international film festivals. Through creatively and successfully indianizing and Indigenizing Shakespeare's originals, the movies take the viewers beyond the purely Indian context and emerge as most ambitious post-colonial adaptations of Shakespeare into film internationally made in recent years. These films have been discussed in Daniel Rosenthal's “100 Shakespeare Films “published by British FIlm Institute and serious Shakespeare scholars and critics such as Douglas lanier, Anthony R. Gunerate, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Nandi Bhatia, Poonam Trivedi have noted studied and commented on them. Keeping in view the appreciable success of Shakespeare_ influenced movies, one can remark that not withstanding the hazards of violation of original text's impact and intensity, dilution of original emotions and flavour of Shakespeare, the celluloid world in India still seems to be a promising platform for further exploration and presentation of the transculturated Shakespeare.
All the world is Shakespeare's stage and more so India. The Bard of Avon has really stayed on even more than seven decades after the Brits (Britishers)left.Indian literature,Theatre and Cinema have claimed Shakespeare as their own.The increased interest in cinematic engagement with Shakespeare augurs well for the future Shakespeare _India involvement and it ensures for the Bard much more space in the Indian Cultural and Literary Discourse. Unlike many other post-colonial writings, 'writing back' to Shakespeare, in powerfully subversive counter_ narratives or rejecting Master's narratives, India's response to Shakespeare is one of delightful intercultural exchange. Indianized, Indigenized, Localized, Transculturated Shakespeare is the New Love of India!