Bollywood Shakespeares from Gulzar to Bhardwaj: Adapting, Assimilating and Culturalizing the Bard

Koel Chatterjee

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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While there has been a lot of research on Shakespeare on stage in India, comparatively little research exists on Shakespeare in Indian Cinema. This thesis is the first full length examination of the evolution of Bollywood Shakespeares, a genre which is influencing Shakespearean adaptations on stage and screen globally and leading to renewed interest in interpreting Shakespeare for modern multicultural audiences. It examines the impact that Shakespeare has had on the Hindi film industry by setting Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare Trilogy within the broader historical context of adapting, assimilating and culturalizing Shakespeare in northern India through an examination of five Shakespearean adaptations in the Hindi film industry from the 1980s till the current decade – Angoor (1984), Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Maqbool (2004), Omkara (2006) and Haider (2014).
The thesis is divided into two parts: the first part focuses on the neglected prehistory of Bollywood Shakespeares, while Part Two focuses on the work of Vishal Bhardwaj. Building on the foundation laid by Poonam Trivedi and Rajiva Verma, this thesis classifies the three stages of Shakespeare adaptations in India broadly as the Imitation Stage (from the 1880s to the 1950s), the Adaptation and Assimilation Stage (1960s to the 1990s) and the Deconstruction Stage (from 2000 to date). Chapter One: Angoor (1982): A Hindi Comedy of Errors, charts the stages of adaptation of Shakespeare in India by examining two appropriative precursors of this popular adaptation of The Comedy of Errors and discussing the adaptation decisions made by Gulzar to bring Shakespeare into the Hindi film mainstream. Chapter Two: Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988): Romeo and Juliet in Bollywood examines the effects of liberalisation and the exposure to Western Shakespeare adaptations on Hindi cinema through an examination of an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which had a landmark impact on the Hindi film industry and made the tragic genre commercially successful in an industry known for happy endings. Chapter Three: Maqbool (2004): The Mumbhai Macbeth, analyses an adaptation of Macbeth set within the world of the Mumbai mafia and discusses how Bhardwaj uses Shakespeare to express current socio-political concerns by focusing on the Muslim gangster stereotype. In Chapter Four: Omkara (2006): The Moor of Meerut, the focus shifts to the Hindu gangster in the Indian heartland, political corruption and the status of women in India through an adaptation of Othello. Chapter Five: Haider (2014): The Kashmiri Hamlet, looks at the violence of the state by translocating Hamlet to the rotten state of Kashmir and depicting Hamlet both as an individual and as the Kashmiri people.
This thesis, through the course of an examination of the work of three directors spanning four decades, demonstrates how Bollywood Shakespeares evolved within the middle-of-the-road sub-genre. These chapters demonstrate how the genre benefited from collaborative tensions and genre subversions as well as experimentation with music and language and the locating of Shakespeare within specific geographical sites that allowed for the indigenisation of the Bard, leading to the establishment of the Bollywood Shakespeare film as global cinema.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rankin, Deana, Supervisor
  • Carson, Christie, Advisor
Award date1 Feb 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Bollywood Shakespeare
  • global Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare adaptations
  • Indian Shakespeare

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