BANGALORE: At the recently-concluded Going Solo Theatre Festival at Ranga Shankara, there was a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s marquee character Shylock through the voice of his supporter Tubal, presenting a Jewish perspective of the play The Merchant of Venice. The questions raised in this short play provide a canvas to analyse the much larger Jewish issue itself. Thus the work highlights the continuing relevance and layered complexity of its source material which is essentially a 15th century Elizabethan play. Reimagined over the last 400 years, The Merchant of Venice and all of Shakespeare’s plays retain their individual ideas, conflicts and issues while developing new idioms for each century.
This play comes on the heels of Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj’s magnum opus based on Hamlet. This is also the final installment of his Shakespearean trilogy of tragedies which include Maqbool and Omkara. The dexterity with which each adaptation is presented is no mean feat and Bhardwaj deserves great praise for his often brilliant twists like turning Rosencrantz and Guildernstern into a pair of loony and malevolent Salman Khan mimics in Haider.
Other strokes of genius include turning Kashmir into the erstwhile Denmark where “something is rotten”, renewing the race-based conflicts of Othello as caste politics in the Uttar Pradesh heartland in Omkara and turning the witches’ portents from Macbeth into predictions by two corrupt policemen in Maqbool. Each film fits like a glove into its local context and it is this ability to transcend barriers of language, time, space and cultures that makes Shakespeare’s work so universal and far reaching in its appeal.
No other playwright has been appropriated by every succeeding generation of writer, actor and filmmaker. From dramatists like Tom Stoppard who have taken marginal characters like Rosencrantz and Guildernstern and given them a play of their own, to filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa who immortalised Macbeth in Japanese culture as Throne of Blood, a visual and stylistic masterpiece set within a feudal samurai context; from American teen films like the Amanda Bynes starrer She’s the Man and Heath Ledger's Ten Things I Hate About You based on Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew respectively to the Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Vermen (in double roles) laugh riot Angoor; from the visual spectacle of Ram Leela, a technicolour Bollywood adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to the modern American TV series Sons of Anarchy based on a gang of motorcycle outlaws and based on Hamlet, the list is near endless and continues to grow.
As each fledgling director takes a turn at preparing Shakespeare for a new century and a new decade, the Bard’s text grows even more nimble, versatile and comprehensive in its range of human emotions and the all-encompassing scope of his characters.
As Jaques says in As You like It “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances”, the world has never stopped being a stage for the Bard of Avon.
Thus it comes as no surprise that he is a writer with the largest number of film and stage adaptations to his credit.