Shakespeare belonged to the Elizabethan age. The great Elizabethan period is considered as a golden period in the history of English literature and Shakespeare to be one of the greatest dramatists, the world has ever produced.
Several general characteristics of Elizabethan literature and writers should be indicated at the outset. The Elizabethan period has witnessed all kinds of unlimited creative force or literary genre including drama, verse and prose. We see the spirit of the loftiest Platonic idealism, delightful romances composed by many great writers. It had a great variety of creativity in almost all genres in both verse and prose. We see the spirit of Platonic idealism and we also see the repulsive realism in the works of many writers. It was mainly dominated by the spirit of romance and was also full of the spirit of dramatic action. But in style, it often exhibits romantic luxuriance which sometimes takes the form of elaborate affectations of which the favourite ‘conceit’ is only the most apparent.
It was a period of experimentation as many new literary forms and techniques were introduced and many new changes were made. In particular, many efforts were made to give prolonged poetical treatment to many subjects essentially prosaic, for example to systems of theological or scientific thought, or to the geography of all England. The age was influenced by the literature of many countries, it was largely influenced by the Italian literature, and to a less degree by that of France and Spain.
Elizabethan Dramas are considered as the greatest dramas in the history of English literature. The greatness is that they are still read and widely performed across the world. We see many great dramatists and the great plays in this period of time. Shakespeare is considered as a genius dramatist in the history of English literature. He is believed, by universal consent to be the greatest author of England and holds a central position in the Elizabethan drama.
Shakespeare is believed to mostly self-school as because of his adverse circumstances. He mainly derived education from Nature and his own experiences. He is well known for his tragedies, which he wrote in his third period of dramatic career, from 1601 to 1609 like ‘Julius Ceasar’ and ‘Macbeth’ which are political tragedies, Hamlet, a revenge tragedy, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is a heroic tragedy’ and ‘Othello‘ and ‘King Lear’ is his other great tragedies of this period.
Aristotle had the view that, tragic literature arouses a very specific set of emotions___ pity and fear___ and brings about a healthy and pleasurable experience called catharsis. Andrea Nightingale in her essay, ‘Mimesis: ancient Greek literary theory’, says that:
According to Aristotle, tragic plots and characters are designed to
arouse pity and fear in the audience. The audience does not
experience the same the exact same feelings as the fictional
characters; indeed, it experiences a very different set of
emotions. When reading or seeing a tragedy, we feel pity for
the characters who suffer, but we do not feel their pain. In fact,
the emotion of pity depends on a certain distance between the
viewer and the sufferer: we feel pity when we are not personally
involved in another’s suffering but, rather, watching from an
external vantage-point. (44)
Shakespeare presented the problems of human life as it is in a powerful way and did not try to solve it. In the later period of his life, he has presented the expression of the serene philosophy of life in his writings in a way that it seems he must have also taken refuge in it. His greatness lies in the fact that he had portrayed his characters by his experience and also by his careful experiment and labour, which is the result of his highest genius. And this is also his supreme achievement present in all phases of his work as a poetic dramatist.
He is an Elizabethan in a true sense; he portrayed his character in a comprehensive way whether it was men or women. We see the beauty of romance, a joy of life and the depth of tragedy in an artistic way in works of this great legend, which is not considered of age but of all ages. His craftsmanship and mastery is seen in all his writings in the representation of men and women, in the most real sense of age and station, perfectly realized in all the subtle diversities and inconsistencies of protean human nature. We see strong male characters in his tragedies and strong women characters in his comedies. It is his imagination that in that period of time he was able to portray strong women characters, women who were intelligent, daring and full of wit.
He is considered as a practical dramatist by many as we see that his background characters are basically for amusement and not only for the entirely realistic event. Even he is always ready to sacrifice his chief characters to the literal truth to dramatic effect. This shows his mastery, craftsmanship & art and makes him a great dramatist. Shakespeare, indeed, although as Ben Jonson said, ‘he was not for an age but for all time,’ was in every respect a thorough Elizabethan also.
It is from ancient times that writers around the world try to depict tragedy in their works. Aristotle and Plato have different views regarding it. As Andrea Nightingale says:
Aristotle offered a different and quite original theory of the audience’s
response to tragic literature. Why, he asks, does a viewer experience
pleasure at the artistic representation of tragic events that would horrify
him in real life? Plato issued rather a blunt answer to this question:
human beings have, among their many psyche appetites, the desire to
weep, feel anger, and express strong emotions. They long to experience
these emotions and take pleasure in tragedy because it satisfies their
appetite for emotional indulgence. Tragedy represents characters
experiencing intense sorrows and emotions, and it encourages the
audience to feel the same feelings as the characters (i.e. to sympathize,
Or ‘feel with’ them. Tragedy does not bring a healthy release of pent-up
emotions; rather, it leads the reader or viewer to be more emotional in
everyday life rationally. (44)
So maybe, this is one of the reasons that writers all around the world try to depict tragedies in their works. Same is the case with the Indian film industry which is popularly called as Bollywood. As it is the common trend in the Indian film industry to portray tragic movies and songs mostly in the movie for its success.
Bollywood cinema is also being inspired by Elizabethan drama, especially Shakespearean drama. It is considered as second best in the world and the most popular film-industry in Asia. It has the record of featuring more than 200 films in a year. Although the Indian Film Industry is not technically as good as the Hollywood, still the films and the stars are as popular as the Hollywood films and stars. Even the West had started taking interest in the Indian Film Industry and the result is that we see many Indo-western projects together. ‘Slumdog Millionaire is one such fine example of Indo-western collaboration.
It is a common trend in the history of Bollywood cinema to adapt stories of popular novel and dramas into films and so Shakespearean dramas are spare from this. There are three adaptations of Shakespearean tragedies into Bollywood films. They include:
- Maqbool (2004), directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, is an adaptation of Macbeth.
- Omkara (2006) directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, an adaptation of Othello.
- Haider (2014) directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, an adaptation of Hamlet.
‘Maqbool’, a film directed by Vishal Bhardwaj is an adaptation of Macbeth. The actor Irfan Khan, who played the role of Macbeth, was named as Maqbool. Pankaj Kapoor named as Jahangir Khan or Abbaji is a powerful underworld don with Tabu, named as Nimmi as his mistress. Maqbool is his right-hand man who is loved by his mistress. He also reciprocated her love but is grateful to Abba Ji and is very much devoted to him. Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah are playing the part of corrupt police officers. These two are symbolic characters representing three witches in the play. The story of the movie moves with their prediction of growth of Maqbool as an Underworld of Mumbai taking over the reins of Abba Ji. In this way, they brainwash Maqbool who is loyal to Abba Ji.
At this stage, Maqbool is in a dilemma whether to be loyal towards Abba Ji or to gain power by overthrowing him and his desire to be with Nimmi. She also motivates Maqbool’s to fulfil his dream by killing Abba Ji. Being inspired by Nimmi he starts his mission for becoming don at the same time ensuring that nobody else is there to challenge him. Overpowering his ambition, at last, he managed to kill him with the help of Nimmi in cold blood while he is in bed at night. So as per the plan he became do with Nimmi as his beloved but they both are haunted by the guilt of Abba Ji’s murder. They even see Abba Ji’s ghost many times. While on the other hand, there is suspicion within the gang about Maqbool’s role in Abba Ji’s murder. At last both the lovers are dead and in this way they meet their tragic ends.
These three tragic heroes are the main characters of the movie yet there are other characters that are significant. The supporting roles played by corrupt police officers like Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah are among them who are responsible for the pace in the storyline of the movie. They also act as comic reliefs who are inspectors-cum-astrologers. They are responsible for bringing tragedy as they predict the rise of Maqbool and the fall of Abba Ji, who has held them on his payroll. Here the director has portrayed their characters in contrary to the Shakespearean play as they are not just passive soothsayers but are involved in plotting the events. They have acted as agents in providing information to Abba Ji’s enforcers to eliminate out his rival gang, using elusive nuances in persuading Maqbool to deceive Abba Ji. They succeeded in patching clumsily an ‘encounter’ on Riyaz Boti which is playing the part of Macduff and subsequently setting up an alliance between a rival politician. They were also responsible for fleeing Guddu, the character playing the role of Fleance and Riyaz Boti against Maqbool.
There are other roles played by Masumeh Makhija & Piyush Mishra in the movie. Though it was not a commercial hit but was very much praised by the critics. The plot of the film is inspired by Shakespearean Macbeth in terms of events and the characterization. In the backdrop of the movie, we see Mumbai underworld and events related to it though is inspired by the play. Bhardwaj has successfully co-related the events and happenings of the plays with the intrigues and conspiracy of the Mumbai underworld.
‘Omkara’, which is an adaptation of Othello released in 2006, is also directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, starring actors like, Ajay Devgan as Omkara Shukla or Omi playing the role of Othello, Kareena Kapoor as Dolly Mishra playing the role of Desdemona, Saif Ali Khan as Ishwar ‘Langda’ Tyagi, (Iago) & Vivek Oberoi as Keshav Upadhyay or ‘Kesu Firangi’ (Cassio). The film did very well commercially and praised by the audience for its music. Bhardwaj also composed the music for the movie including the super hit background score. Credit also goes to the lyricists Gulzar for writing lines preferable for the plot and today’s situation. The movie is based in a small town of Western Uttar Pradesh, Meerut. The backdrop of the movies is the politics of Uttar Pradesh. The movie did fairly well not only in India and all the neighbouring countries but also in Western countries like the United States and Australia.
Although there are many movies based on politics and crime of Uttar Pradesh, still Omkara is very different in its portrayal of incidents and characterization. The movie is set up in Meerut reflects the criminalization of politics of Uttar Pradesh. The movie won many national and international awards like the prestigious National Awards, Filmfare Award, at Asian Film festival and at Cairo International film festival. It was also showcased at the Marche du Film section at the 2006 Cannes film festival along with a book on the making of Omkara.
The leading character of the movie is Omkara, a bahubali, a sort of political enforcer & leader, related to gang committing a crime for the local politician Tiwari Bhaisaab, the role played by Naseeruddin Shah. Langda Tyagi and Kesu Firangi are his biggest support. The movie has an abrupt opening with Langda Tyagi gate crashing a baraat, challenging the bridegroom, Rajju (Deepak Dobriyal) to make attempt to stop Omkara from abducting his bride, Dolly Mishra. But Rajju is not successful and the wedding never takes place because Dolly is abducted by Omkara. Dolly’s father Advocate Raghunath Mishra, the role played by Kamal Tiwari, referred as Vakeel Saab by people in the movie is agitated and confronts Omi. He pressurized Omi to return his daughter but Dolly herself hesitates to return back. She clarifies that she herself eloped with Omi and that she loves him making her father ashamed and betrayed.
After some political upheavals, Bhaisaab is elected for parliament and Omkara is promoted from Bahubali to the candidate for the upcoming elections. Entering into politics, Omkara appoints Kesu over Langda as his successor which was a humiliation for him. Feeling jealous because Kesu was junior and inexperienced than him, he desired to take vengeance against both his offenders. For this purpose, he hatches a conspiracy against them by creating misunderstanding between Omkara and Kesu. For this purpose he hatched many plots, like, on one hand, he misguides Kesu against Dolly and Omi and on the other hand he starts poisoning Omi ears against Dolly. He convinces Omi that Dolly and Kesu are engaged in illicit love affair giving many false pieces of evidence. This results in the killing of Dolly by Omi on their wedding night and Kesu was shooted by Langda on Omi approval. At this stage, Indu clarifies the misunderstanding of Omi against Dolly blaming Langda for the entire nuisance. In the end, Indu kills Langda and Omi commits suicide.
There are some supporting cast in the movie; Bipasha Basu as Billo Chamanbahar (Bianca), Konkona Sen Sharma as Indu Tyagi (Emilia), Deepak Dobriyal as Rajan Tiwari (Roderigo), Naseeruddin Shah as Bhaisaab (Duke of Venice), Pankaj Tripathi as Kichlu, Manav Kaushik as Surendra Kaptaan and Kamal Tiwari as Advocate Raghunath Mishra.
Third in the series is ‘Haider’ an adaptation of Shakespearean Hamlet which is considered as “one of the most important movies of the year.” Although his previous two films ‘Maqbool’ and ‘Omkara’ were successful in this movie, directed by Basharat Peer is gaining wider media attention because of its controversial backdrop. It is based in the Indian-administered Kashmir in the 1990’s, a time when militancy was at its peak. Shahid Kapoor, playing the role of Prince Hamlet is named as Haider Mir, who is a student of AMU and a poet comes back to Sri Nagar after his father’s death. Shraddha Kapoor is playing the part of Hamlet’s beloved Ophelia named as Arshia in the film; Tabu playing the role of Hamlet’s mother Gertrude called Ghazala and Kay Kay Menon as Hamlet’s Uncle, Claudius.
Set in the backdrop of Kashmir in the times of turbulence, the movie has successfully adapted the play’s well-known twists and turns into the lives of the characters in the movie. After his father disappearance, in order to search for him, Haider leaves his studies and comes back to Kashmir. It was the time when the insurgency was at the height, his father, who was a doctor by profession was found guilty of helping militants and was carried away by the armed forces. He is disappointed and dejected to finds his mother in an illegal relationship with his uncle, whom he later discovered to be a traitor and responsible for his father’s ill-fated.
The film is all about Haider as the play is about Prince Hamlet and as he wanted to take revenge of his father’s death in the same way Haider decides to take revenge against his Uncle and armed forces resulting in ruining his own personality. In his voyage to revenge, he is being dragged up into the wrong hands and in the wrong way. If he believed his father was not guilty, he should have fought a legal battle which would not have ruined his life, his beloved and his family. ‘Revenge is a wild justice’, as Bacon says same is portrayed in the movie, Haider.
Critics believe that Bhardwaj has been able to portray out the raw emotions of Hamlet as Haider in the movie while focusing on Kashmir. The state which has witnessed its worst struggle throughout the 1990’s as all the separatist’s groups started their violent clash with the Indian army demanding for a separate state. This also includes the attacks of many other Indian cities, hijack of planes, kidnapping of many international tourists, forcing the Kashmiri Pundits to flee from the valley and killing of many innocents by the terrorist groups. This is something which is not justifiable on any grounds.
Kashmir being the ‘bone of contention’ between India and Pakistan since 1947 has always been a flashpoint in South Asia resulting in two wars, nuclear armament of the two nations and number of ceasefire violation on the border. India has continuously warned Pakistan for supporting the militant groups and interfering in the internal matter of it. But in ‘Haider’ we don’t see Indo-Pak rivalry and blame-game instead of it we see the human rights violation throughout the movie.
Earlier many human rights activists have accused security forces of torturing and kidnapping local and innocent youths in illegal detention camps but the defence forces have always condemned this allegation as wrong. Jason Burke wrote an article in ‘Guardian’ that, “Haider includes graphic scenes of torture in Indian army camps and other human rights abuses by Indian officials.” Although being a bold portrayal and receiving much criticism it has also received many praises from film critics and also from Bhardwaj’s fans.
There are various films made on Kashmir issues in Bollywood since the rise of militancy in the valley like, ‘Roza’, ‘Hero’ ‘Mission Kashmir, ‘Dhoka’, ‘Fanaa’, ‘Lakshya’, ‘Lamhaa’ and there are more regional and international films in the series including some documentaries also. Analysts and critics believe that all the commercials films made earlier were not successful in highlighting the real issue and ‘Haider’ is the first film which completes this demand. The Hindu says:
It takes some amount of guts, ambition and skill to ride two
wild horses- at the same time. Bhardwaj “churns out the
best of his Shakespeare trilogy, an adaptation of Hamlet….
which is also an unflinching look at the recent political
history of Kashmir. (2)
It is believed that “there is no denying that mass graves of disappeared people were indeed found.”There is an article in the First Post which says that:
Portraying the uncomfortable political reality of Kashmir”
is a great challenge and “more so when the issue lies at the
heart of tension between the people of Kashmir and India. (2)
After so many contradictions, Kashmir remains a burning issue for India. It is something which should be dealt with very sensitively as it is the centre of evoking strong emotions.
Bhardwaj is being criticised by the various Indian groups and media about the portrayal of armed forces as they all describe it as an “unfair.” But he spoke defending the movie:
I am also an Indian, I’m also a patriot, and I also love my nation.
So I won’t do anything which is anti-national. But what is
anti-human, I will definitely comment on it. (2)
We all consider Kashmir as an integral part of India and we all want it but not account of human rights violation and so if such things are happening it should be condemned and India being a Secular democratic republic does not believe in any kind of suppression.
On Twitter, we can see mix-feelings or contradictory views over the emotional outburst on the movie as it has been reflected in two rival hashtags. It is either #Boycott Haider or #Haider True Cinema. Both are getting enough tweets since the movie has been released through the latter getting more. So people have the contradiction in its depiction while some describe it as ‘unfair portrayal’ the other see it as a true expression of real cinema in India.
Nonetheless, ‘Haider’ has paved the way for the opening of a new platform for India where more sensitive issues will be raised through films and media as believed by many analysts. Dr Zakir Hussain, a senior analyst at the Indian Council of World Affairs states that:
As democratic traditions strengthen in the country,
more and more such movies will be made and people
will be educated. Haider is the first step in that direction. (2)
India is a democratic country where one is free to express his/her views so if any citizen of the country has any issue regarding injustice meted to him/her then they should fight for their cause on humanitarian ground and not by picking up the gun. Weapons are not a solution to any problem relating to ethnic, religious, political, and social or any other issue. Recently Army officials and other suspect involved in ‘Machill fake encounter’ have been persecuted by the Government of India. ‘Justice may be delayed but not denied.’
Vishal Bhardwaj seems to be greatly inspired by Shakespeare’s genius as he is the director of three films based on his dramas and especially tragedies. Maybe in the future, we will see some more under his production. Human beings all possess reason, but they are generally ruled by passions and emotions (the ‘lower’ and ‘irrational’ parts of the human psyche). Literary texts disseminate ideas, but they do so by playing on our emotions and desires. (42) After reading the plays of Shakespeare and watching all these adaptations by Vishal Bhardwaj, we can believe so.
There is a famous quote by Jatinda Vermer who speaks about this great writer as, “Shakespeare is strong on class structures and hierarchies, but these hierarchies have broken down in England. In Asia, we still have these strong hierarchies. I’d say the best way to do Shakespeare and be true to him is through Asian eyes.” So this is the greatness of Shakespearean drama that they are still adopted in all parts of the world and Bollywood cinema is not apart from this.
- Fletcher, Robert Huntington, History of English Literature, 1918.
- Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
- Andrea Nightingale, ‘Mimesis: Ancient Greek Literary Theory’, Literary Theory and Criticism Ed by Patricia Waugh: An Oxford Guide. (Oxford University Press; New Delhi, 2006).
- Ramesh, Randeep (29 July 2006). “A matter of caste as Bollywood embraces the Bard: Big budget remake of Othello — with song and dance — starts new trend”. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- “Omkara film preview”. BBC website. Retrieved 18 July 2007.
- “Omkara’ shines in Cairo and Karachi.” Apun Ka Choice. Retrieved 26 December 2006.
- “The Telegraph — Calcutta: Look.” Telegraphindia.com. 27 August 2006. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
- “Saif Ali Khan breaks his lover-boy image in ‘Omkara’: Bollywood News”. Apunkachoice.com. 12 July 2006. Retrieved 6 October 2011.