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William Shakespeare, the Ultimate Inspiration for the Indian Filmmakers

Indian Films Based on Shakespeare Plays

Indian Films Based on Shakespeare Plays

From Vishal Bhardwaj's trilogy to critically acclaimed films from the South, here are some of the film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays.

Time and again, William Shakespeare’s classics have found their way to the screen. From Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood to Keanu Reeves starrer My Own Private Idaho, Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted by several filmmakers for the silver screen. Indian cinema, too, isn’t far behind in adapting the great playwright’s dramas. Fahadh Faasil’s upcoming film Joji directed by Dileesh Pothan is the most recent film adaptation of Macbeth which is set to release on April 7.

Here, we bring you a list of plays that Indian filmmakers have taken inspiration from:

Comedy of Errors

One of William Shakespeare’s earliest plays written sometime around 1594, Comedy of Errors is an absurd comedy telling the story of two identical twins separated at birth. Three popular films- Bhranti Bilas (Illusion of illusion), Angoor and Do Dooni Char is based on this play. The Bengali film Bhranti Bilas is based on a novel by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar which itself is based on the play. In 1968, Debu Sen remade the film in Hindi as Do Dooni Char. Furthermore, Gulzar’s 1982 film Angoor is a remake of Do Dooni Char.


The Tragedy of Macbeth

Macbeth follows the story of an overly ambitious Scottish general named Macbeth who after receiving a prophecy from a mysterious trio of witches sets his eyes on the throne of Scotland. His hunger for power, aided by his wife’s assistance, makes him take actions that ultimately result in his destruction. The 2016 Malayalam film Veeram set in 13th century India tells the story of a legendary warrior Chandu Chekavar, who similar to Macbeth, let his greed for power betray his close ones.

The 1951 Tamil film Marmayogi sees a young mistress of a king, teamed up with her lover, kill the king to usurp his powers. Another very popular adaptation of the tragedy is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool starring Irrfan Khan and Tabu.

The Taming of the Shrew

It is another comedy by Shakespeare written somewhere around 1590. The play follows the story of Petruchio and Katherina and how the former tames the latter to be an obedient bride. The south Indian film industry has given three popular adaptations of the play-Arivaali, Mahajananiki Maradalu Pilla, and Nanjundi Kalyana.

The 1963 Tamil film Arivaali tells the story of an activist Muthuvel whose love interest Thangalakshmi is an uneducated village girl. Comic situations arise after the two get married. Nanjundi Kalyana, a 1989 Kannada film also based on this play turned out to one of the highest-grossing Kannada films at the time of its release. In 1990, Vallabhaneni Janardhan remade the film in Telugu as Mahajananiki Maradalu Pilla.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Hamlet retains its stature as one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. The tragedy of the Prince of Denmark found a deft adaptation in the hands of Vishal Bharadwaj, who introduced the tale in a more Indian context by placing it in the insurgency-hit Kashmir of the 1990s. It followed Haider, a troubled youth, who similar to Hamlet sets out to unravel the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Before this critically acclaimed film, we had Sohrab Modi’s Khoon ka Khoon (1935) which is often credited as one of the earliest film versions of Hamlet. It is also the first Hindi/Urdu sound adaptation of the play. Then in 1954, we had Hamlet directed by Kishore Sahu, and in 2012, the Malayalam film industry gave us Karmayogi, another film adaptation of the play.

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, or Othello is believed to be written around 1603 and focuses on Othello and Iago. It follows a tale of love, power and jealousy where Iago manipulates Othello till he ends up killing his beloved wife Desdemona. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara, the second instalment of his Shakespeare trilogy sees Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Vivek Oberoi in the roles of Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Cassio, respectively. Jayaraaj’s 1997 Malayalam film Kaliyattam also tells the story of Othello but is set around the Theyyam performance.

A very recent adaptation of the play is the Bengali film Hrid Majharey (Live in my Heart) which also draws inspiration from Macbeth and Julius Caesar. This is the first Bengali film adaptation of Shakespeare, followed by Arshinagar (based on Romeo and Juliet) in 2015.

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