Bollywood film-makers have not once, not twice but have adapted plays of William Shakespeare many times through Omkara (Othello), Haider (Hamlet), Ram Leela (Romeo and Juliet), Maqbool (Macbeth), 10ml Love (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Qayamat se Qayamat tak (Romeo and Juliet), Ek Duje ke Liye (Romeo and Juliet), Issaq (Romeo and Juliet), and Ishaqzaade (Romeo and Juliet). More than just often, the directors have been successful in not only earning a good box office collection but also in presenting a good adaptation of the plays. However, the plays are always altered and modified to fit into the context of Indian Cinema and thus, sometimes the movie is unable to do justice to the original script of Shakespeare.
Omkara released in 2006 was an adaptation of Othello but differed variedly, so by the time Shakespeare reached Bollywood, the poetic and metaphoric narration had become raw, abusive and monotonous to suit the Indian audience. Culture has never been the goal, only access. Along the way, women representation took a toll too. Women in Othello was the ideal feminine representation of Shakespeare’s era, while women in Omkara seem empowered and courageous. Shakespeare wrote Iago beautifully but presented no motive in his way, his hatred is unjustified throughout the play while Langda’s hatred is driven by motives that we see taking form and shape in the movie. Even though the gist of the story remains unaltered, the essence of Shakespearean work has been removed thoroughly from Omkara.
Haider came out in 2014 as a movie based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Since all these plays have been written in a completely different era and settings than the movie, most moral obligations shift. Haider’s setting is in Kashmir. It is nearly impossible to divorce Kashmir from the movie’s meaning while no such place is mentioned in Hamlet. Hamlet’s friend Horatio is missing from the movie. The climax has had a few modifications based on the setting of the movie and the unity of place and time. The relationship that Haider shares with Ghazala is very different from what Hamlet shares with Gertrude. Hamlet is a tragedy and thus many main characters die throughout the play, however, to keep the Bollywood essence alive this does not happen in the movie. The plot of the movie is based on the despair seen in the societies in Kashmir which makes it very different from the play.
Ram Leela is yet another adaptation of a Shakespearean play by an Indian movie director. Ram Leela came on floors in 2013. Leela is portrayed as a pseudo feminist mostly,who is anti-men. Ram is flowing with testosterone. The movie showcases enmity between two clans, the clan of Ram versus the clan of Leela. No matter how aesthetically pleasing the movie seems the plot has been varied and deviated from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. The first half of the movie walks parallel to the play. However, the second half deviates into more drama, action and dance numbers to keep the audience interested.
Maqbool is Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Macbeth. The movie came out in 2003. The movie is an aesthetic masterpiece and yet is changed so much to fit into the Indian Bollywood context. The storyline ties the movie to the text of its origin. There is no Lady Duncan or Lady Macbeth in the movie. Rather, Abba ji has a mistress named Nimmi who secretly has a love affair going on with Maqboo. While Macbeth is driven by the desire for power in the play, Maqbool is also driven by lust. Both the play and the movie have strong female characters who decide how the story shall move forward.
There have been various other adaptations from time to time that have brought the Western literature to Indian Cinema. Some movies have ruined classics for us while the others have not only increased our interest in western literature but have also fascinated us with their screenplay, music, plot deviations, dialogues and context. Every adaptation is not only like covering the distance of languages, but cultures and settings, so some changes were indeed expected. So, what happened when Shakespeare reached Bollywood? Shakespeare stopped existing for our Indian cinema to thrive and exist live never before. Indian cinema has borrowed much of its life from William Shakespeare’s scripts and hopefully will continue to do so in future.