Vishal Bhardwaj, who completed his trilogy of Shakespearean tragedies with Haider, has often said in interviews that he can spend his entire life producing films on Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, he has also expressed his desire of adapting the Bard’s comedies on celluloid. Bollywood has time and again gone back to Shakespeare for both inspiration and stories. Gulzar’s 1982 film Angoor was based on The Comedy of Errors. The following year Rahul Rawail made Betaab, which was again inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. In 2003, Bhardwaj made Maqbool, which was based on Macbeth, followed by Omkara in 2006, an adaptation of Othello. Prateik Babbar-starrer Issaq (2013) too was interpretation of Romeo And Juliet.
Finally, Shakespeare has found a number of admirers in the Bengali film industry too. Three noted Bengali filmmakers - Aparna Sen, Anjan Dutt and Srijit Mukherji - are already adapting Shakespeare on celluloid and a few have expressed their desire to adopt Shakespeare’s plays in the future. Interestingly, Mukherji has taken a bold decision to adapt not one but two Shakespearean tragedies - Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra - into one film.
Come Christmas and Sen’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet will hit the screens. Titled Arshinagar, the film stars Dev and Ritika in the lead. Dutt’s next, Hemanta, which is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, stars Parambrata Chatterjee.
For Sen, Shakespeare is universal. The Mr and Mrs Iyer filmmaker says that the language of a Shakespearean text is different. “Once you identify with his language, Shakespeare isn’t difficult to understand. The stories are simple. Take King Lear for instance. It’s a story of a father who wants his daughters to love him. Macbeth is about ambition and who isn’t ambitious in life? People can easily identify with his stories. It’s the same with Romeo and Juliet. In a world of corruption, jealously and crime, it is love that still drives us,” says Sen.
This is not the first time Shakespeare is being adapted in Bengali films. How can one forget Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen’s Othello act in Ajoy Kar’s cult classic Saptapadi (1961). In 1963, Manu Sen directed Uttam Kumar, Bhanu Banopadhyay, Sabitri Chatterjee and Sandya Roy, in Bhrantibilas. Though this comedy was based on the Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s play Bhranti Bilas, it was originally inspired by Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.
Anjan Dutt, who is still basking in the glory of his latest Byomkesh Bakshi film, couldn’t find anyone better than Parambrata to play the titular role in his Bengali adaptation of Hamlet. His film, Hemanta, is set against the backdrop of the Bengali film industry. “I have been wanting to make Hamlet for the longest time,” says Dutt, who didn’t quite like Bhardwaj’s Haider, an interpretation of Hamlet. Sen too says that she didn’t like Haider but she loved Bhardwaj’s Maqbool, which was an adaptation of Macbeth and starred Pankaj Kapoor and Tabu.
Watch Arshinagar trailer here:
Mukherji considers Julius Caesar to be one of his favourite Shakespearean tragedies. In fact, Mukherji’s debut film Autograph too had a portion of Julius Cesar. His next, Zulfikar, starring Prosenjit Chatterjee and Dev among others, and an adaptation of Julius Cesar and Antony and Cleopatra, is set against the backdrop of shipping mafia. Director Arindam Sil too says that he has plans of adapting one of Shakespeare’s plays but has decided to wait for some time, as a number of films on the Bard’s works are already being made.