Adaptation of Shakespeare in Bengali Theatre and Cinema

Adaptation of Shakespeare in Bengali Theatre and Cinema

Darshana Chakrabarty (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3511-0.ch021


The mastery and majestic aestheticism of Shakespeare has a global influence. The extensive presence of Shakespeare began in India as a part of the colonial strategy. The Bard's works were first introduced in schools and colleges as a scheme of the British government to get cheap administrative services from the natives. Gradually, Shakespeare entered the theatres of India, beginning with Calcutta, the then capital of India. With time, when the theatres were experiencing “dark stage,” Shakespeare got adopted and adapted in the film industry. From Bollywood to regional Indian cinemas, like the Bengali film industry, all felt the influence as well as drew inspiration. This chapter discusses in details about the introduction of Shakespeare in India, Calcutta, his movement from page to stage, and then stage to screen. Movies like Saptapadi, Bhranti Bilas, Srimati Bhayankari, Hrid Majhare, Arshinagar, Hemanta, and Zulfiqar have been discussed.
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For centuries artists have taken up the medium of literature and film to expose the disillusions of the “world”, bare open the deepest emotions and desires of men, stage the reality to educate “men and women”, spread awareness in the hope of raising consciousness and responsive actions from the “players”. Owing to colonialism, Indian culture, specifically literature and film, have experienced the influence of Shakespeare even after 400 years of Bard's death and 72 years of India's independence. Within India's colonial education system “a proliferation of Western literature, mainly Shakespeare…was important for a political reason too” (Yadav, 2014). Besides high aesthetic value, Shakespeare’s plays and poems demonstrated the fundamental values of Western tradition and culture. Post-independence, India still witnesses Shakespeare being adapted in many Indian literature and films, translated in many Indian languages and incorporated in the works of great Indian artists. The contemporary Indian film industry “has in the recent past been subject to considerable critical attention and exegesis, particularly in its embodiment of a public domain that is expressive of a people's desires, quests, and achievements” (Trivedi, 2007) as well as the democratic authority governing the country. Not only Hindi language films, or Bollywood, but also regional films like Tollywood or Bengali language films, have also been quite successful in realistic representation of the society through art and intensifying people’s interest, questioning people’s blind beliefs and using films as a means to educate and disseminate knowledge.

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