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SHAKESPEARE AND INDIAN CINEMAS: LOCAL HABITATIONS (Routledge Studies in Shakespeare). By Poonam Trivedi and Paromita Chakravarti (Eds.). London: Routledge, 2018. 344 p.

Shakespeare first came to India as an entertainer and later as a mediator of Western ideologies. This crossing of borders via Shakespeare was a part of Britain's colonial mission to "civilize" the East by suppressing their cultural consciousness. His proliferation as a medium of Britain's cultural imperialism makes it difficult to deny the impact he has had on cultures around the globe. The strokes of green bleeding into blue on the cover of the book are emblematic of this cultural alchemy. However, just like the process of alchemy where the goal is to transmute the baser metals into gold, the idea behind Shakespeare's universality was, historically, to whitewash other cultures.

As a result, the afterlife of Shakespeare's text is continuously reiterated and negotiated within the cultures it was put in conversation with by the empire. The title of the book, Shakespeare and Indian Cinemas, not only targets Shakespearean, film, post-colonial or theatre scholars but also urges them to study the impact of Shakespeare on the "Local Habitations" and vice-versa--in order to realize the historical and contemporary influence of the literary works surrounding him.

This book is a collection of fifteen chapters, divided into four parts, three interviews and an annotated filmography of 115 films, which serves as an extensive archive of Shakespearean films in the Indian Cinema. These re-iterations of Shakespeare via cross-cultural adaptations put stress on his text's embryonic nature by questioning the transformativity of his universalism. The book, edited by Poonam Trivedi, associate professor of English at Indraprastha College and Paromita Chakravarti, professor of English at Jadavpur University directs our attention towards the work done in "regional cinemas and bring their particular histories of literary and theatrical engagement with Shakespeare into the larger and a more interactive picture" (4). Cinema is a crucial cultural index of our society, and the authors ranging from film theoreticians, gender scholars, Shakespearean scholars, and documentary and filmmakers compel us to reconsider our experience of watching it.

The first part, "Indigenising the Tragic," delves into the interstices of the original text to analyse how its previously signified meaning evolves when Shakespearean tragedies are appropriated by the Indian cinema. Poonam Trivedi's article, "Woman as Avenger: 'Indianising' the Shakespearean Tragic in the Films of Vishal Bhardwaj," analyses how women supplant men as an "active instruments of redemptive justice" (10). This is similar to Bhardwaj's movies in which there is a disjunction between the text's constructive intention and director's auteurism. Trivedi locates these gendered tragic resolutions at the center of her argument to analyze the alternative space created in the feminised afterlife of Shakespeare's text which is used to conceptualise the relationship between the agency of the local and the global women on the contemporary and early modern stage, respectively. Robert S. White, on the other hand, has replaced the gendered variables with dharma, the code of right way of living, to study how Mahabharata's moral insistence conflicts with the tragic frame of Hamlet in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's 2007 film Eklavya: The Royal Guard. He does so by juxtaposing the politics of Renaissance revenge tragedy with the movie's decision to grant women the agency to halts the "cycle of retributive violence" (11) in his article, "Eklavya: Shakespeare Meets the Mahabharata." The alterity and relationality between the two different cultures allows for the productive articulation of the differences in the movie. Considering the social and cultural values which are at the stake of such articulations, the section makes the reader question how an active presence of one's cultural memory and norms affects the reading of the play. Koel Chatterjee, cognizant of these socio-cultural complexities, weighs in on the epistemological and phenomenological implication of Mansoor Khan's decision to keep the original tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak against commercial logic of a typical Bollywood adaptation.

Chatterjee's essay segues us into Amrit Gangar's "Silent Shakespeare: Recouping an Archive," which vocalizes the history of silent Shakespearean movies in India. Positioned under "Critical Innovations: Historiography of Silence and Poetics of Rasa," it highlights the necessity for recouping and reclaiming the understudied voices of the past to realize the historical implications of our contemporary analysis. The reconstructed archive according to her will prompt "deeper studies into India's literary traditions in different languages that had reproduced a large repertoire of the Shakespeare oeuvre in translations of either performative plays or non-performative texts" (124). This section critiques 'how' and 'why' the oeuvre was silenced, and generates new modes of studying the aesthetics of Shakespearean film adaptations using notes from Zankar's essay on Sanskrit rasa theory.

The third section, "Between the Global and the Local," does not fail to account for the inconsistent prioritization and heterogeneity of the local identities that comprises the global. The problem, therefore, is not simply about the "intercultural dialogue and intertextuality between Anglophone cinematic genres...and the exploration of Indian regional identities" (13) as the book proposes, but also about self-projection of domestic spaces which have historically been a site of Britain's annihilatory strategy. Preti Taneja's "Such a Long Journey: Rohinton Mistry's Parsi King Lear from Fiction to Film" raises questions about the relation between the global and the local, diasporic and the native, and insider and the outsider. She has coined the term "diaspora- pudding" (157) to create a space for texts in which the distance and difference between the familiarity and unknowability of the local are scaled either by the presence or absence of Shakespeare. The critical work on diaspora-pudding, she argues, must "reach an audience of global exiles whose memories are sacred, but that will also include people who have general interest in the locale of the film... captures 'India' in its... contradiction of civilisation" (157). The idea might seem disorienting at first, but raises an important question about the identification of and with a nationalized selfhood. "Cinematic Lears and Bengaliness: Locus, Identity, Language" uses Shakespeare to carve out a Bengali identity for the readers from four movies which were marketed to an international audience. This undoubtedly raises concerns about the increased consumption of ethnicity in and homogenization of the global market, but Paromita Chakravarti argues for and illustrates the opposite via her analysis. She asserts that Shakespearean adaptations are a "mode of producing and maintaining difference" rather than a tool for the erasure of diversity. This swerve from the conventional way of thinking seeks to answer how the regional articulation of differences reinforces one's cultural autonomy. Varsha Panjwani's essay, "Shakespeare and Indian Independent Cinema: 8x10 Tasveer and 10 ml Love," expands the narrative thread of "the global and the local" with the materialist reading of indie Indian movies. She apprises her readers about how "the expression of a new middle-class, transnational, cosmopolitan identity in a globalised, urban India" (14) is enabled in 8 x10 Tasveer and 10 ml Love. The materiality within the play's text seems insignificant upon reading, but it becomes indispensable when the text is reworked in a visual medium. The cinema, as a result, becomes a tool for illuminating the interstices of the original text, configuring new-identities and cross-cultural discourse.

"Gendered Play and Regional Dialogue in Nanjundi Kalyana" marks the beginning of the fourth section, "Reimagining Gender, Region and Nation," and articulates the difference between the tropes of regional cinema and Bollywood. Shakespeare, Burnett explains, is the medium for preserving the local identity within regional cinemas. This is evident in his analysis which attributes Nanjundi Kalyana's national yet simultaneously regional character to its proximity to Bollywood and the critical changes which were made to accommodate certain aspects of regional cinema. Next, A. Mangai studies the moments where Shakespearean and Tamilian literary works have come together to raise important questions about the social origin and the cultural significance of the adapted texts, and probes deeper into the question of local identity in her essay "Not the Play but the Playing: Citation of Performing Shakespeare as a Trope in Tamil Cinema." The intertextuality in these texts compels us to question what is stated and critique the way it meant to examine the ambiguous and enigmatic nature of regional identities articulated both in the regional and national adaptations of Shakespeare.

Following the four sections of the book are the interviews with Pankaj Butalia, documentary film-maker, Roysten Abel, theatre director and playwright, and Aparna Sen, Associate professor of English and Humanities at Heritage Institute of Technology. Each of the three interviewees tries to explain the different points of Shakespeare's influence in their lives. If Butalia talks about documenting the experience of people with Hamlet in areas sensitive to militant violence, then Abel narrates how Shakespeare influenced the way he thinks a bout multidimensionality, gaze, and audience during the production process, and Sen brings in the perspective of a female actress navigating her way through Shakespeare's text in contemporary India.

The book accrues a significant amount of research value from its carefully retrieved and assembled filmography. The authors in the book demonstrate how the archive can provide valuable insights once the research ensues. In terms of the regional identities, the majority of the essays focus on the south-eastern division of India. If the book had included an exploration of other regional identities it would have expanded its scope further. Nevertheless, this omission does not work to its disadvantage because it provides an opportunity for its readers to explore the untouched avenues with the aim "to uphold the transcultural appropriative as a legitimate mode of interpretation" (18).


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Article Details
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Author:Saini, Vijeta
Publication:Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019

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