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The Bard and Bollywood

Comments  Comments [ 1 ]    By Gunia M. | 24 August 2014 | 1:30am

Bollywood's relationship with the great Bard dates back to as early as 1941 with J.J. Madan's Zalim Saudagar, much before Vishal Bhardwaj sort of developed Shakespeare as a genre in Bollywood. His plays have fueled a various number of movies; while some were direct adaptations, others just borrowed themes and placed them in a different context. Some of the themes in his works resonate heavily with the Indian mind-set, such as jealousy-driven to murderous tendencies, lovers from enemy clans, and the dark perils of power. The results are clearly visioned. Recent adaptations such as Ram Leela (2013), Ishaqzaade (2012) and Omkara (2006) also performed fantastically at the box-office. This is probably the reason why more and more film-makers are turning to Shakespeare's body of literature, in search of inspiration. Today, BollyCurry brings to you a few among the top movies from Bollywood that are clear adaptations from some of Shakespeare's greatest works.

It may have actually began with Angoor (1982), which is possibly the most popular and most loved of all Bollywood adaptations of Shakespeare's cult comedy, The Comedy of Errors. The story follows a pair of twins separated during an unfortunate sea voyage. Years later, when Ashok and Bahadur travel to another town on a business trip, coincidentally the same place where the other Ashok and Bahadur live. What follows is a rib-tickling journey of discovering unknown spouses, a theft, an arrest and situations strewn with comic errors! Aided by well etched out characters, extremely memorable performances, and with Gulzar at the helm of affairs, Angoor remains a classic. Deven Verma is the only one to have won a Filmfare Award for his role. The movie was eyed with some skepticism before it went on to become a phenomenal hit because producers were less willing to back up a genre that wasn't well-received at that point. Angoor connected with the audience well and remains till date, a fine tribute to the great Bard's work.

Another name in Bollywood frequently associated with Shakespeare is Vishal Bhardwaj. His movies place Shakespeare's most popular works in a gritty, starkly Indian context. In Maqbool (2003), the right-hand man of an underworld don Abbaji (played by Pankaj Kapoor) becomes the Bollywood-ized version of Macbeth, Maqbool, played by the talented Irrfan Khan. Two corrupt police officers (played by Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah) play roles similar to that of the three witches when they predict that Maqbool would take over the role of the underworld don. Nimmi (Tabu), the mistress of the don, secretly loves Maqbool and supports him in the killing of Abbaji. Ultimately, they suffer a tragic defeat. Maqbool adapts the play in the Mumbai underworld setting. The movie is full of tremendously power-packed performances. Adding to it a lot of intensity and a National Award-Winning performance by Pankaj Kapoor in the role of don Abbaji and it is easy to understand why Maqbool earned Bhardwaj much critical acclaim.

Bhardwaj further pays tribute to the Bard with his adaptation of Othello, in the form of Omkara (2006). Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor Khan play the vital roles similar to that of Othello and Desdemona in the play as Omi and Dolly. Omi convinced of his wife's infidelity, becomes the crazed, jealous lover and kills Dolly, only to later realize that the accusations were false. Struck with grief, he commits suicide. In a manipulative plot against two good characters, the lovers meet a tragic end. Although Omkara remains faithful to the original play in its theme, it is also very Indian. Notably, Omkara is a man belonging to a lower caste and when he gets married to the daughter of a powerful politician, it creates conflicts.Omkara is also more accessible than Bhardwaj's Maqbool, because it is more commercial and even includes an item number. With this movie, Devgn and Kapoor delivered what is hailed as one of the finest performances in their career. The Indian audience flocked to the theaters and the movie earned tremendous appreciation, globally. Saif Ali Khan was also much appreciated for his role as Langda Tyagi, the Indian adaptation of Iago, winning several awards for it.

Sanjay Leela Bansali takes the Bollywood obsession with Shakespeare further with Romeo and Juliet, taking it to grander heights with the adaptation of an epic tragedy, the larger than life and gorgeously created, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-leela (2013). Lavish sets, royally choreographed dance numbers, extremely energetic songs, crackling chemistry between the two leads and a colourful, vibrant aura to the entire setting, Ram Leela might not be the truest adaptation of a phenomenal play, yet it remains a visual feast. Ram and Leela belong to two clans, the Rajadi and the Sanera respectively, both of which have been enemies for over 500 years. They fall in love or what is seen as lust, but the families get in their way. In the end, when both realize that it is them against their families, they decide to kill each other. Ironically, just as they kill themselves, their families decide to end the war with a truce. The movie won Deepika Padukone practically all the awards for Best Actor (Female) in 2013. Her chemistry with Ranveer Singh was also appreciated greatly. Ram Leela definitely makes for a great visually stimulating cinematic experience.

Romeo and Juliet happens to be one of the more commercially successful ventures with several adaptations of the popular play. Issaq (2013) raised eyes and eyebrows when it took Romeo and Juliet to Banaras. Directed under Manish Tiwary, the film features the likes of Prateik Babbar, Amyra Dastur and Ravi Kishan. Rahul and Bachchi come from two warring families, the Kashyaps and the Mishras. In the backdrop of the sand-mining mafia and the naxalite armies, the two leads fall in love followed by a sad end. Issaq did moderately well but Ravi Kishan's performance was critically acclaimed. Along with that, the backdrop of Banaras marks the fascinating new trend in Hindi Cinema - the development of love for raw and vivid locations in the motherland. More films are turning to places in India that are full of energy and earthy colour. This rawness successfully keeps Issaq visually colourful.

Other movies including Ishaqzaade (2012) and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) also borrowed themes from what remains the most evocative of all Shakespeare's works. There is something about Romeo and Juliet, and most of his other works like Othello, King Lear and Macbeth that has connected and still connects with individuals and groups all over the world. Themes, characters and dialogues still remain relevant and universal in their appeal for more than 400 years after they were originally written. 

Bollywood has cashed in on this common thread for a long time now; and with the upcoming Haider, once again directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, it is most certainly not the end. Here's a toast to the Great Bard, may there continue to be more of Shakespeare! 

Writer: Tanisha N.
Editors: Shreya S. and Sonia R.
Graphics: Virina R.

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Kareena Kapoor Kareena Kapoor

Deepika Padukone Deepika Padukone

Ranveer Singh Ranveer Singh

Ajay Devgn Ajay Devgn

Naseeruddin Shah Naseeruddin Shah

Om Puri Om Puri

Year : 1982

Year : 2004

Year : 2006

Qayamat Se Qayamat TakQayamat Se Qayamat Tak
Year : 1988

Year : 2012

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-LeelaGoliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
Year : 2013

Year : 2013