Shakespeare Wallah Movie Review

The first sequence of Shakespeare Wallah shows British actors clowning around like idiots while knowing Indian servants wince, and it looks like the film will be a typically simple-minded parody of British "imperialism." This early Merchant-Ivory collaboration shares the same subject matter -- the end of the British Empire -- as many of their later films, but it develops into a more intimate and nuanced work than the team's subsequent high-profile period films, like The Remains of the Day.

Probably this is because the story, which concerns an unsuccessful troupe of English Shakespearean actors in post-colonial India, is semi-autobiographical. Several of the actors, most of whom are somehow related (Felicity Kendal is the daughter of Geoffrey Kendal and Laura Liddell in life as well as on screen), were actually members of an English-Indian theatrical troupe who toured India in the 1960s. The film is most interesting as a tour of India when it was still in some ways a British country.

Geoffrey Kendal's character, the leader of the troupe, faces the waning interest in Shakespeare (or theater in general) in India. His wife (Liddell) is worried about the future of his daughter (BBC sitcom star Felicity Kendal), who is being romanced by a Bombay playboy, Sanju (Shashi Kapoor). Sanju is also involved with a Bollywood film star, Manjula (played by Madhur Jaffrey). The scenes with Kapoor and Jaffrey are interesting, because the two characters seem so thoroughly Western. Kapoor is a suave celebrity reminiscent of Laurence Harvey's jet-setting character in Darling (made the same year); Manjula is a sophisticated star who lip-syncs her (Indian) songs with world-weary professionalism. Their interest in Shakespeare is limited, but more because of their ages and shallowness than because of loyalty to India's cultural traditions.

The film is shot in black and white, which is unfortunate because it renders the Indian scenery and settings drab (more recent Merchant Ivory films tend to be visually spectacular, if nothing else). Though slow and sometimes hard to follow, the film contains some interesting and unexpectedly subtle moments. The film portrays the parting of the ways of British and Indian cultures, but suggests that the cultural collaboration between the two may be deeper and more two-sided than is obvious.

Aka Shakespeare-Wallah.


Comments

Shakespeare Wallah Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 1965

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