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Master of 'Jugaad' and 'Masala'

Shakespeare is not a traditional boring read. You will fall in love with his plays if you relate to them in the right way.

William Shakespeare’s plays have been enacted down the ages despite sweeping changes in genres of writings and evolving tastes of people. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears...” is a legendary line of a dialogue from his play Julius Caesar. It is the powerful impact of words, which has kept Shakespeare alive in the imagination of the public.

The Indian connection

“Shakespearean plays were not particularly meant to be read on the printed page but to be heard,” says Jonathan Gil Harris, Professor of English at Ashoka University. Indians are unusually well equipped to enjoy his plays. There are so many aspects of Indian culture which revolve around the spoken word, be it old traditions of storytelling or music from Hindi films or even Honey Singh and his wordplay.

Professor Gil Harris is the president of The Shakespeare Society of India and enjoys looking through Shakespearean plays, which have been adapted in the local Indian context.

“People will recognise that Shakespeare’s plays are not boring repositories of English wisdom but, in fact, spoken phenomena very close to the tradition within the Indian culture,” he notes.

It's the reverential attitude towards Shakespeare that often makes us resentful.

“We have got to be irreverent to have the opportunity to play with ideas and play with interpretation. There's no one single interpretation... arguably, we can say that his work has survived so long because it lends itself repeatedly to so many interpretations.”

Local adaptation

Movie director Vishal Bharadwaj's films, Maqbool (2003) and Omkara (2006), were adapted from Macbeth and Othello respectively. His latest film, Haider, based on Hamlet, is one of the many films adapted into the local context.

The comparison to Indian culture does not end here. “There’s something about Shakespeare’s plays which is very similar to the storytelling that we find in India — couples from boring families who get together, forbidden relationships, conflicts between masters and servants, happy endings that come from nowhere and completely arbitrary interruptions of song and dance routine with lots of wordplay.”

In his workshops, organised for students of classes XI and XII, Jonathan found that children wanted to like Shakespeare but they could not get themselves to like him. “I got them to read passages out loud, hear the rhythms of Shakespeare’s speech and asked them what it does to them.

The kids began to find that the language is a little less mysterious, less alien.” When students realise that what these adaptations do is take some ideas from Shakespeare and play with them, and that as people, they can talk back to Shakespeare, that’s when his plays become most enjoyable.

That's exactly what the playwright was doing; out of his 37 plays, only one was original. He took the story from somewhere else. He was the master of masala and jugaad. He would take something and twist it to create something else.

“Every act of storytelling is an act of re-telling the story,” says Jonathan signing off.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 11:02:03 AM |

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