Shakespeare Re-mixed

Recently, we watched Omkara – Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of Othello. A few nights ago, I watched Xiaoxang Feng’s The Banquet – Hamlet set in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms of China. I could seriously geek out over the visual delights offered by both of these productions, but I will restrain myself since I have another reason behind this post.

Course Title: Shakespeare in Asian Cinema

Can we come up with a list of movies that can be labelled as adaptations or re-tellings of Shakespeare set in Asia? Difficulty: The movie must proclaim itself an adaptation. We can begin with K.B. Athavale’s 1928 Khoon-e Nahak [Hamlet] and Sohrab Modi’s 1935 Khoon Ka Khoon [Hamlet]. J. J. Madan’s 1941 Zalim Saudagar [Merchant of Venice]. Also, Gulzar’s 1982 Angoor [Comedy of Errors] or Jaya Raaj’s 1997 Kaliyattam [Othello].

Further fun: Comparing South vs. East Asian adapatations.

The Macbeths of Kurosawa [Throne of Blood] and Bharadwaj [Maqbool] could be compared. Or this Turkish female Hamlet!

Add away.

16 Replies to “Shakespeare Re-mixed”

  1. That is easy enough.

    Before that India Censor Board card – a smart-looking JNU english prof [think Arundhati Roy w/ short, cropped hair] makes a grand proclamation. “This here movie is adapted from XYZ”. I am easily satisfied.

  2. But what do you mean by ‘proclaim itself’? How does a film make a proclamation? Wouldn’t it metastasize if it went about making proclamations? I think before we can discuss this anymore we need to rethink what we mean when we say the words ‘proclamation’ and ‘adaptation’.

  3. “how are we limiting spin-offs: translations/ transplants/ inspirations/ vaguely similar/ self-conscious interpretations?”

    nightingale: as i say in the post, “The movie must proclaim itself an adaptation. ” So, as long as they credit Billiam Shakuspeyare. I am fine.

  4. if we’re goin’ meta (thanks amardeep) let’s go all the way to Raj Kapoor. man started off acting in Shakespeare, in his daddy Prithviraj’s very Angrez theatre company (inspiration for Shakespeare wallah btw). man also clearly could not stop being a Shakespearean actor: Raj’s first film Aag is clearly a brooding, melancholic coming-of-age Hamlet type saga…without the actual Hamlet part.

    which brings us back to the Quizman’s pertinent point (and Lapata’s well founded remark): how are we limiting spin-offs: translations/ transplants/ inspirations/ vaguely similar/ self-conscious interpretations?

  5. amardeep: No, but how meta! I haven’t seen this, but will try and netflix it.

    zp: the foreign/domestic in Shkpr is what I was going for. Especially watching the Othello [Omkara], I was thinking that Othello shoulda been cast as a farangi.

    quizman: what? you call yourself a persophiliac and didn’t claim that Gulzar shoulda given a shout-out to Zend Avesta?

  6. lapata: Qayamat se Qayamat tak (1988), for example, couldn’t be anything but Romeo and Juliet, but does anyone ever say it is?

    But it could, right? Tragic love affairs are, as you very well know, quite common in South Asian/Iranian literature as well. But you may be right in the sense that some of them may have been well inspired by that famous bard from Lucknow, Wali Miya Shaikh Pir.

    And Plautus and Aristophenes were quite good at acting the goat. In fact, Gulzar should’ve gone one step further with Angoor, by crediting Plautus’ work.

    I disliked Maqbool. It bored the heck out of me. Throne of Blood on the other hand is hugely impressive.

    An aside: There is an opera scene from Troilus and Cressida in ‘Dil Chahta Hai’. And Farhan Akhtar actually pulled it off quite well.

  7. No suggestions for films. BUT, if I were teaching “Shakespeare in Asian Cinema” I might use some of the basic Shakespeare scholarship on the “domestic” and the “foreign” in the plays, alongside the Shakespeare texts. If Shakespeare depends upon the play between familiar and exotic spaces, how is this dramatic tension used in other times and places? I actually really like many of the geographic spaces invoked in Shakespeare – very fluid, and based on the imagination, or sometimes pragmatic and based on economic ties and trade histories . . .

    And I would work in Peter Brooks King Lear. I don’t know how, but I would because when a girl dashes her head on the rocks she does so by force of will.

  8. But do Bollywood movies proclaim themselves to be adaptations of the things that they are adapted from? Films like Maqbool and Omkara are arty, so the directors want you to know their inspiration, but there are many Bombay movies that seem to be complete copies of Shakespeare plays without announcing the comparison in any way. Qayamat se Qayamat tak (1988), for example, couldn’t be anything but Romeo and Juliet, but does anyone ever say it is?

  9. Having just watched The Banquet (not many movies have visually mersmerized me as much as this one…), I want to see The Bad Sleep Well ( again. It’s not as true to the original material as Feng’s interpretation, but the political context is quite engaging. Then again, the imperial guards (They’d make Darth Maul look like a street punk… I KID YOU NOT!) in The Banquet alone might get my vote. By the way, I think Feng actually stole a lot of visual cues from Hero (ceiling drapes, colors, and themes..).

    Sepoy, I agree that A face-off between Throne of Bood and Maqbool should be interesting. I must say Throne is a pretty darn good adaptation of Macbeth. Although it’s not as well known as Ran, I think Throne is just as impressive. Should be interesting.

  10. I can’t think of any right now that haven’t been mentioned already, but what did you think of Omkara? I liked Maqbool a lot, but haven’t seen Omkara yet.

  11. I would like to extend an invitation to you to join in on a collective blogging section of our upcoming winter issue of Reconstruction. The issue is the “Theories/Practices of Blogging.” In addition to the special section of posts on blogging there will be about a dozen essays on blogging.

    The deadline is October 27th.

    Our intent in this section of the issue will be to collect a wide range of bloggers and link up to their statements in regards to why they blog (something many of us are asked) and any statement they have on the theories/practices of blogging.

    If you already have a post on this you can feel free to use it, or, if you are interested, you can submit a new one.

    We will link to each statement from the issue at our site, with the intent of creating a hyperlinked list of statements on blogging that can serve as an introduction to blogging (or an expansion of knowledge for those already blogging).

    If you are interested please contact me at mdbento @

Comments are closed.