- Performing Shakespeare in India: Exploring Indianness, Literatures and Cultures ed. by Shormishtha Panja, Babli Moitra Saraf
In recent years, conversations about Shakespearean adaptation, whether onstage or on-screen, have begun to include non-Anglophone performances and interpretations. Performing Shakespeare in India belongs to this trend and shares theoretical affinities with previous collections such as Sonia Massai’s World-Wide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance (2005), Poonam Trivedi and Dennis Bartholomeusz’s India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and Performance (2005), and, more recently, Craig Dionne and Parmita Kapadia’s Bollywood Shakespeares (2013). Performing Shakespeare in India stakes out its own space, though, through its focus on indigenous performance traditions. The emphasis is not only on Shakespeare but also on how the Bard plays into “the creation of Indianness” (7).
The essays in this collection explore a broad range of textual and performative contexts drawn from different parts of the Indian subcontinent, ranging from nineteenth-century Bengali translations of Shakespeare’s plays to Theyyam dancers of Kerala in cinematic adaptations of Othello. Panja and Saraf thus understand performance in its broadest sense, and not as it relates strictly to stagecraft. The editors helpfully provide six thematic subdivisions that assist the reader in navigating what might otherwise have been sudden shifts in genre and chronology. Panja’s own essay in the section on “Shakespeare and Indian Visual Culture” sets the tone for the whole collection by providing much-needed background on Shakespearean translations in colonial India. By introducing the richly layered history of Bengali illustrations that accompanied the textual translations, Panja explores how the Bard’s plays contributed to the development of the “new [Indian] woman” (25).
For those interested in contemporary performances of Shakespeare within an Indian context, the second section brings together a remarkably well-knit group of essays that look at both the post-independence and diaspora scenes. For instance, Paromita Chakravarti in “Urban Histories and Vernacular Shakespeares in Bengal: Kolkatar Hamlet, Hemlat and Hamlet 2011” demonstrates how Shakespeare’s tragedy became a way for voicing political dissent in West Bengal—first during the Naxalite movement of the 1970s and then later in the early 2000s, when the communist regime was in its decline. On the other hand, both Claire Cochrane and Thea Buckley, respectively, turn to Indian/Pakistani productions of Shakespeare in the United Kingdom in order to explore how the complex identity politics of production teams as well as audiences impact the reception of plays. While tracing the nuanced history of British Asian actors, directors, and playwrights such as Iqbal Khan, Jatinder Verma, and Paul Bhattacharjee, Cochrane observes that little has been done “to research and document the history of British Asian theatre initiatives. What has been marginalized in practice has also been [End Page 130] marginalized in the historical record” (65). What follows is a rapid tour of some of the new British Asian productions of Much Ado about Nothing (2012), The Merchant of Venice (2005), and even A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1997). Buckley’s essay takes up this problem of staging Indian (and, by extension, subcontinental) Shakespeares in the United Kingdom from a different perspective by questioning the extent to which performances at the World Shakespeare Festival (2012) were able to open up a “‘global’ dialogue” between the two cultures in the face of rigid linguistic demarcations imposed by the organizers (77).
While the third section shifts to “Shakespeare and Indian Films,” the essays here still work in the performance aspect. For instance, Paramita Dutta reads the Merchant Ivory film Shakespeare Wallah (1965)—a quasi-fictionalized account of Geoffrey Kendal’s acting company Shakespeareana, which toured India in the years leading up to independence and shortly after—as a commentary on the shifting theatrical appetites of decolonization. Similarly, Trisha Mitra’s essay partly looks at the Theyyam performance in the Malayalam film Kaliyattam (1997). The remaining sections of the collection mostly reexamine questions of translation. T. S. Satyanath’s maps and...