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Introduction to Shakespeare in India, by Poonam Trivedi, University of Delhi

That Shakespeare came to India with colonialism is well know. What is less known and not readily acknowledged, even in India, is that Shakespeare was first introduced to India as an entertainer. His plays are known to have been first performed, in English for the diversion of European traders in Calcutta and Bombay around 1775, but by the 1850s they are beginning to be performed in translation in the Indian languages. While the study of the English Language and Shakespeare was an imperial imposition, the performance of Shakespeare was not, and the stage forms a vital part of this long history of intercultural engagement.

This interaction between Shakespeare and India can be charted via five main tendencies: the English language Shakespeare, the localized Shakespeare, the universalized Shakespeare, the indigenised Shakespeare and the post-colonial Shakespeare.

  • The earliest dramatisations of Shakespeare by Indians were of scenes in schools and colleges. 1822 is the first such known performance, at Hindu College, Calcutta. It initiated a tradition which had continued to this day, of the performance in English by Indians as part of the English language learning exercise.
  • The earliest performances, in translation, were usually adaptations ranging from a simple change of names to an interpolation of character and action, along with song and dance, and may be seen as politic or appropriations, making the foreign one’s own.
  • This was followed by a period of faithful performances, with few or no adaptive changes, with western costume and mise en scene, which in the context of colonialism, was another kind of mastering of the master text, a universalizing of its themes and ideas.
  • Later, particularly after independence in 1947, Shakespeare’s plays were co-opted in the search for identity. They were transposed into various indigenous theatre forms as part of the “back to the roots” movement in theatre and helped to forge a new performative idiom while giving an added respectability and stability to the traditional forms.
  • From the nineties onwards, in the increasingly post-colonial world, Indians have felt freer to approach Shakespeare. There is no longer the need to ‘adapt,’ rather they can make bold to ‘play’ around with Shakespeare’s text, with what was once the colonial book, and deconstruct it for their own needs.

We hope you enjoy viewing the Indian productions in this archive.

    Thumbnail Title Play Director Year Company Language Country
    36 Chowringhee Lane Henry IV, part 2, King Lear, Twelfth Night Sen, Arpana 1981 Film-Valas Bengali, English, Hindi India
    Angoor Comedy of Errors Gulzar 1982 A.R. Movies Hindi India
    Bobby Romeo and Juliet Kapoor, Raj 1973 Yash Raj Films Hindi India
    Charudatham Julius Caesar Harikumar, Sadanam 2001 Satwikam Malayalam, Sanskrit India
    Dil Chahta Hai (The Heart Wants) Troilus and Cressida Akhtar, Farhan 2001 Hindi India
    Hamlet Hamlet Hazarika, Anup 2007 National School of Drama Assamese (Indian dialect) India
    Hamlet Hamlet Kishworjit 2001 Paradise Theatre Manipuri India
    Hamlet Hamlet Mallik, Nilanko 2016 Shakespeare Youth Performances English India
    In Othello Othello Abel, Roysten 2003 ANB Motion Pictures English India
    Iruthiattam King Lear Raju, R. 2001 Arangam Tamil India
    Josh Romeo and Juliet Khan, Mansoor 2000 United Seven Combines Hindi India
    Kaamdeo ka Apna Basant Ritu ka Sapna (The Love God’s Own, A Spring Time Dream) Midsummer Night's Dream Tanvir, Habib 1993 Naya Theatre Chattisgarhi, Hindi India
    Kaliyattam (The Play of God) Othello Nair, Rajasekharan Jayaram 1997 New Generation Cinema Malayalam India
    Kannaki Antony and Cleopatra Nair, Rajasekharan Jayaram 2002 Malayalam India
    Kodumkattu (Tempest) Tempest Panikkar, Kavalam Narayana 2001 Sopanam Malayalam India
    Life Goes On (King Lear) King Lear Datta, Sangeeta 2009 Stormglass Productions English, Hindi UK
    Macbeth Macbeth Mallik, Nilanko 2019 Shakespeare Youth Performances English India
    Maqbool (Macbeth) Macbeth Bharadwaj, Vishal 2003 Kaleidoscope Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. Hindi, Urdu Canada
    Mississippi Masala Romeo and Juliet Nair, Mira 1991 Black River Productions English United States
    Mr. Romeo Romeo and Juliet Mukherjee, Subhash 1974 Subodh Mukherji Productions Hindi India
    Omkara Othello Bharadwaj, Vishal 2006 Big Screen Entertainment Hindi India
    Othello: A Play in Black and White Othello Abel, Roysten 1999 India
    Raja Lear King Lear Bhuthiadia, Sharad 1993 Pratyaya Theatre Marathi India
    Reshma Aur Shera Romeo and Juliet Dutt, Sunil 1971 Ajanta Arts Hindi India
    Samrat Lear (King Lear) King Lear Brown, John Russell 1997 National School of Drama Hindi India
    Shakespeare Wallah Othello, Richard II, Romeo and Juliet Ivory, James 1965 Merchant Ivory Productions English, Hindi India
    Sholay Romeo and Juliet Sippy, Ramesh 1975 Sippy Films Pvt. Ltd. Hindustani India
    The Merchant of Venice Merchant of Venice Saini, Vijeta 2019 The Struggler Theatre Group Punjabi India
    Ur-Hamlet Hamlet Barba, Eugenio 2006 Odin Teatret Balinese, Danish, English, Japanese, Portuguese Denmark
    When Hamlet Went to Mizoram Hamlet Butalia, Pankaj 1990 Vital Films Mizo India