It might seem a bit far-fetched, but literary pundits reckon that Bollywood may have struggled had there been no Shakespeare to inspire and borrow from.
All that escapist fare from bizarre coincidences and grossly mistaken identities to loud emotions had the bard’s signature written all over it, declared a panel of experts kicking off the annual South Asian Literature Festival in London with a discussion on Shakespeare’s influence on Bollywood - and storytelling in South Asia generally.
Salil Tripathi, a writer and avid Bollywood watcher, approvingly quoted Naseeruddin Shah as saying that “all Bollywood is Shakespeare” or words to that effect.
But he cautioned against exaggerating Shakespeare’s influence pointing out that many existential and philosophical elements of his work such as Hamlet’s dilemma “to be, or not to be” already existed in great Indian epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Nandini Das, professor of English literature at the University of Liverpool, saw the Bollywood-isation of Shakespeare as part of a long historical process of foreign influences on Indian culture.
Andrew Dickson, who is theatre editor for the Guardian media group and is writing a book about “global Shakespeare”, was struck by his influence on Indian theatre, especially Parsi theatre while Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, University of London and Britain’s best-known Bollywood pundits suggested that it was more a case of Bollywood adapting Shakespeare than being influenced by it.
The festival, billed as a window on South Asian culture, will feature an Urdu adaptation of Taming of the Shrew, and Hindi version of Twelfth Night.