Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video

By Lynda E. Boose; Richard Burt | Go to book overview

6

SHAKESPEARE WALLAH AND COLONIAL SPECULARITY

Valerie Wayne

Shakespeare Wallah is about the reception of Shakespeare's plays in India after the end of the British Raj. Written, directed, and produced by Merchant Ivory Productions, the company that later made such films as A Room with a View, Howard's End, and Remains of the Day, the movie was released in 1965. 1 It tells the story of a British acting troop called the Buckingham Players that has fallen on hard times because they can no longer count on devoted audiences to attend their performances. The political changes in India as a result of independence, combined with the rising popularity of India's own cinema, have prompted a largely negative reaction to Shakespeare's plays among those who had previously received them with great enthusiasm. From a hybrid position of former British and newly independent subjects, the Indian audiences respond not only with approval but with mimicry and resistance; they also completely disrupt one performance. Shakespeare Wallah presents the bard's texts as sites of considerable cultural conflict in this post-colonial context.

Ania Loomba observed in 1989 that “more students probably read Othello at the University of Delhi every year than in all British universities combined. A large proportion of them are women.” She estimates that 20,000 students may study Shakespeare's texts annually at that university alone. The pedagogy associated with this instruction is not encouraging. Loomba explains that the “English literary text” is studied in India “as an amalgam of universal value, morality, truth, and rationality” (Loomba 1989:10). Jyotsna Singh agrees that the text of English literature “remains a hallowed entity” (Singh 1989:457) in post-colonial India and relates contemporary approaches to Macaulay's support for education as an ideological means of subduing Indians in the nineteenth century: “in introducing English literature to elite Indians [then]-or in allowing them access to Calcutta theatres-the colonial rulers were not being egalitarian, but rather, were engaged in a 'hegemonic activity, ' by which, in Gramsci's terms, the consent of the governed is secured through intellectual and moral manipulation rather than through military force” (449). 2 Viewed in this context, Merchant Ivory's film problematizes the place of the privileged Shakespearean

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