Shakespeare in Bollywood

Shakespeare in Bollywood

It is a little too late in life that an ardent reader like me discovered the magic of Shakespeare.  And now that I am reading about him,  I am so excited that I want to read them all, to understand them all.  Thankfully,  the internet and Youtube is loaded with Shakespeare.  It is a fascinating world.  His dialogues are amazing and relevant even today.  Many of the idioms and phrases and even words we use can be attributed to the great Bard.  And another fallout is,  I see glimpses of these classics is some of the most mundane movies.  Shakespeare is very much dominant and kicking it in Bollywood.

  1. Karz / Om Shanti Om – Inspired from Hamlet.  The base story of Simi Garewal killing her husband to get to his inheritance is the first clue.  Nobody knows about it.  No one believes Rishi Kapoor when he says Simi Garewal killed him.  Rishi Kapoor’s reincarnation is only slightly more inspired by Hamlet’s father’s ghost who tells him that his mother in connivance with his brother has killed him.  Then there is the play where Rishi re-enacts how he died and then they focus on Simi’s face to see if she is guilt-ridden.  It is all Hamlet there.  For Malayalam movie fans,  revisit ‘No.20 Madras Mail’.  Strip off the antics of a drunken Mohanlal and Mammooty-emulating Mohanlal to discover Soman’s guilt.  The core of the murder theory is the same.
  2. Angoor – This great comedy starring Sanjeev Kapoor and Deven Verma in double role is a direct adaptation of ‘The Comedy of Errors’.  In fact, they even declare it at the beginning of the movie.  But the movie has been Indianised turning it into an evergreen classic.
  3. Baghbaan / Swarg – King Lear abdicates his kingdom and distributes it among all his children except one who is a little less favoured for being honest.  The King realises his error of judgement when he is shunted between the children whom he had endowed with his riches.  He is finally rescued by the less favoured child and a knight whom King Lear had dismissed earlier.  See the similarities with Baghbaan.  Amitabh and Hema Malini are shunted between the children but finally is happy with Salman Khan who is an orphan helped by Amitabh.  Similarly, in Swarg,  Govinda is the knight who helps Rajesh Khanna and his less favoured child is Juhi Chawla here.  Of course, both movies have a lot of Bollywood masala added to Indianise it.
  4. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak(QSQT) – The classic tale of lovers belonging to two feuding families has been done and redone many times in Bollywood.  However, QSQT is one of the best adaptations.  But, I just hate the ending when the lovers die.  The movie is through and through Romeo and Juliet with a bit of honour killing thrown in to Indianise it.  Think of Ek Duje Ke Liye which is feuding families over something as trivial as languages.  Also all Hindi movies where the families are against their children marrying.  This must cover almost 70% of Bollywood movies.

Vishal Bharadwaj has made a career out of remaking Shakespeare’s plays – Omkara is Othello,  Maqbool is Macbeth and Haider is Hamlet.  Personally, I haven’t seen these movies but now I will with a fresh perspective.  I would like to see how he can twist ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ into something spectacular.

Regional Indian language movies have many more inspired versions of Shakespeare. Do you think you have seen any Shakespeare remake?  Let me know in the comments.


22 thoughts on “Shakespeare in Bollywood

  1. Oh, I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but yeah, I’m certain that many of the Bollywood or regional movies draw inspiration from some of the classics, with some drama thrown in for good measure. I didn’t realise OSO was inspired by Hamlet though – of course, I could barely sit through the movie, so that could be why.

    1. OSO is a remake of Karz which is loosely inspired by Hamlet. So, the connection. But, a lot of movies rely on books to get a good plot. Thanks Sid.

  2. Hey I thought Om Shanti Om was inspired by the Phantom of the Opera. I’m surprised you didn’t do Shakespeare in school. My first play was in Class 3 ( of course it was only a story and not the actual play ) A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then I changed school and there was no more Shakespeare till I rejoined my old school in class 8 and then we did, Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet. The funny thing is that we actually thought doing Shakespeare was essential but now as grannies, my friends and I wonder what was so fantastic about learning lines by heart.

  3. I’ve seen all the movies you mentioned above including the Vishal Bharadwaj ones which I enjoyed as well. I have read As you like it and Julius Caesar as part of the curriculum in school and hated them. I was never a fan of classics or archaic language. But the movie adaptations have been nice.

  4. I have read Shakespeare in school… the abridged/adapted versions for children. But have seen all these movies. I love Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptations though, may be because of the realistic portrayal and intense acting by the actors.

    1. I have also not read a full fledged Shakespeare text. But I am reading summarised version. I want to read the one with his dialogues. That is next on my wish list.

  5. You’re right Romeo and Juliet would be hands down the favourite of Bollywood. There’s Bhansali’s Ram Leela and also Ishaqzade on the same theme. I’m not a fan of Vishal Bhardwaj’s films even though they are critically acclaimed.
    Midsummer Night’s Dream was done by someone I think. Can’t remember the film. It would be a fun watch for sure.

    1. Strangely, I have not seen Ram Leela and also Ishaqzaade. There are English movies with similar plots. I plan to look them up.

  6. This was interesting. I haven’t read Shakespeare in the real sense. A few stories were a part of our English curriculum in 7th Std but those were adaptations for children. I have watched all the Hindi movies you have mentioned here. All of them are wonderful movies except for Haider. It lost the plot in the climax.

    1. I need to see Haider now. But, I agree some of the acting is over the top. Because Shakespeare has a more ‘comic’ approach to his plays. Anyways, this is an area I plan to explore more in future.

  7. I haven’t read Shakespeare yet, but have seen a few movies based on his plays. Angoor was well made, as was Omkara. Vishal Bharadwaj has, thankfully, done a commendable job of making those movies, but I am not very sure of the others, what with all the songs and dances they add to an otherwise serious plot!

    1. Haha try it Shilpa. I read for the first time and I have fallen in love with his wordplay and characterisation.

  8. I think of all the movies inspired by Shakespeare’s work, Vishal Bhardwaj does it best but his take is a little too dark for my taste. But yes, he does bring out the best in actors. I’m not a big fan of book to movie adaptations as most of the time they fail to do justice to the book.

    1. 99% times, the book to movie adaptations are never right. Precisely the reason I haven’t seen Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies. But, if they are based on Shakespeare’s plays, I want to watch it.

  9. Sigh, Lata. You took me back to college and Shakespeare and lessons spent in the classroom listening to hours of wonderful lectures. I wish I could go back. Nothing like Shakespeare, truly. He’s truly been a strong force in Vishal Bharadwaj’s movies and he’s done a good job of it too.

    Hamlet is one of my favourite plays.

    1. Now I regret that I should have taken up Arts in college. This is so good and my husband thinks I have gone crazy.

  10. I knew about Hamlet adaptations but didn’t know others were remake of the plays. No wonder I liked those movies so much. I can never forget the ending of QSQT. I was so young and so heart broken to watch it.
    Loved this compilation.

    1. QSQT left me depressed for days. It was too sad. Many of our movie plots are inspired by Shakespeare. The lost and found formula, memory losses, mistaken identities, secret murders, you name it and it has been done. Almost 500 years later, the Bard and his plays are still relevant. Isn’t it amazing!

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