William Shakespeare is one of the most popular writers of all time. What the bard wrote was considered popular fiction at that time, and perhaps that’s why his work finds resonance, even four centuries later, in Hindi cinema — a common factor being that both believed in the art of entertainment.
As many have pointed out, Shakespeare’s plays, particularly so distinctive with their language, style, and the loudness of performance coupled with hyperbole and decisions taken in the heat of moment/passion were meant more to be performed than studied as literary pieces of work. It is this quality of his work that his musings, love stories, passion found a place everywhere across the world and, most commonly, transmuted into cinema, a mass-entertainment-performance-genre that succeeded theatre.
As the world observes the bard’s 403rd death anniversary on 23 April, which also happens to be his birthday, here is a look at how some of his texts inspired Hindi cinema to make films.
An avid Shakespeare fan, who has made most of his films as adaptations of his work, is Vishal Bhardwaj ( Maqbool, Omkara and Haider)
A Mumbai-based mafia take on Macbeth, the film went on to become a cult film and later a part of literature students’ syllabi in schools and universities. Maqbool starred actors like Pankaj Kapoor (Duncan I of Scotland), Irrfan (Macbeth), Tabu (Lady Macbeth), and Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri as fortune-tellers, who gave stellar performances and added complexity to the source text, also making it indigenous.
Based on Othello, this film starred Ajay Devgan (as Othello) who falls in love with the fair Desdemona, essayed by Kareena Kapoor Khan. It was this film through which Saif Ali Khan, who portrayed the scheming Iago, established himself as a nuanced actor who could deliver a variety of roles. Konkana Sen played Emilia (Iago’s wife) in the movie.
Haider is based on Hamlet, set in the beautiful and cold landscape of Kashmir, just like the source text was based in the Scandinavian north, Denmark. Shahid Kapoor played Hamlet, Irrfan played the Ghost and Shraddha Kapoor played Ophelia in the film, which again went on to become a box-office success, besides courting controversy for taking up Kashmiri militancy issue head-on.
Gulzar’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors starring Sanjeev Kumar is a fine adaptation with an ample dose of filmy entertainment. It also had Moushami Chatterjee, Deven Verma and Aruna Irani in key roles and the film went on to inspire latent Shakespearean talent in Bollywood.
However, Gulzar adapted the Bengali film, Bhrantibilas (1968), based on Ishwar Chandra Chatterjee’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, starring Kishore Kumar and Asit Sen. Gulzar had earlier written Do Dooni Chaar (1968) starring Kishore Kumar and Tanuja — adapted again from the same Bangla film.
10 ml Love (2010)
Sharat Katariya’s debut film transposed the world of A Midsummer’s Night Dream to a Punjabi wedding setting. 10 ml Love starred Neil Bhoopalam, Tisca Chopra, Rajat Kapoor and Purab Kohli among others.
This is the only Hindi film based on Shakespeare’s this particular play and therefore, deserves a mention.
Romeo and Juliet has, perhaps, inspired most adaptations not just in Hindi cinema but across the world.
Some of the films that were inspired from the text are Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak(1988), starring Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla; Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela:Ram Leela (2013) starring Ranvir Singh and Deepika Padukone; Ishaqzaade (2012) – Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor; Issaq (2013) starring Prateik Babbar and Amyra Dastur; Bobby (1973) starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia; Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981) starring Kamal Haasan and Rati Agniohotri; Sanam Teri Kasam (1982) starring Kamal Haasan and Reena Roy; and Saudagar (1991) starring Manisha Koirala and Vivek Mushran.