film star Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey) during a moment
her song and dance number in the film within a film
in Shakespeare Wallah.
1965/India, 120 Minutes
Buckingham (Geoffrey Kendal) and his wife Carla (Laura Lidell) are the
actor-managers of a troupe of traveling Shakespearean actors in post-colonial
India; they must grapple with a diminishing demand for their craft as
the English theatre on the subcontinent is supplanted by the emerging
genre of Indian film. Lizzie Buckingham (Felicity Kendal), the couple's
daughter, falls in love with Sanju (Shashi Kapoor), a wealthy young
Indian playboy who is also involved in a romance with the glamorous
Bombay film star Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey). The Buckinghams, for whom
acting is a profession, a lifestyle, and virtually a religion, must
weigh their devotion to their craft against their concern over their
daughter's future in a country which, it seems, no longer has a place
its title, Shakespeare Wallah is a film of unexpected juxtapositions
and cultural conflict; it is a look at changing values in art, and an
examination of the question of what it means to be indigenous to a place.
The nomadic lifestyle of the poor players -- artfully shown through
many scenes of their fretful peregrinations around India -- provides
the visual enactment of the problem of the Buckinghams' rootlessness,
as here we find the first Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala exploration of that
subject, the great dilemma for Merchant Ivory characters from Lizzie
Buckingham to Ruth Wilcox in Howards End. "Everything is
different when you belong to a place. When it's yours," Carla Buckingham
quietly and regretfully tells her daughter, the young Englishwoman who
was born in India and has never stepped foot on the soil of her "home"
and Lidell (whose experiences as head of a travelling company
of players in India were the inspiration for the screenplay) provide
a true and affecting center for the film, both onstage as Malvolio
or Gertrude, and offstage as artists who have watched their audiences,
their fortunes, and their prestige diminish by degrees. The young
Felicity Kendal turns in a performance that would send her to
stardom in England, while Shashi Kapoor displays a subtlety that
suggests a maturation from his earlier work in The Householder.
Madhur Jaffrey's inspired Manjula is to date one of the most memorable
women in the Merchant Ivory filmography: her performance earned
her the Best Actress prize at the 1965 Berlin Film Festival, where
Shakespeare Wallah premiered. The musical score is provided
by none less than Satyajit Ray, the Indian master-director and
and Jhabvala's clever use of the Shakespearean scenes in the Buckingham
Players' repertoire consistently illuminate and enrich the procceedings:
a Maharaja in his darkened dining hall recites lines from the
deposition scene in Richard II. Later on, Manjula condescends
to visit the theatre and makes a rude, grand entrance while Tony,
as Othello, soliloquizes before his murder of Desdemona. There
is a deep irony in the juxtaposition of competing passion plays,
on-stage and off (and Manjula's entrance in the middle of the
scene is even more outrageous when we recall that Othello does
not murder Desdemona until Act V of the play: Manjula has not
only interrupted the proceedings. She has shown up only for the
last ten minutes).
the Shaksepearean texts cast light on the film, so the film also
casts unexpected light on the Shakespearean texts it includes.
Ivory and Merchant have captured on film perhaps the last moments
in the last place in the world where itinerant players -- like
those tragedians of Hamlet -- might arrive from the open road
to play before a royal court. When the rain raineth in Feste's
song at the end of Twelfth Night, the words acquire a new elegiac
tone: the song becomes a summing up, not only for the play but
for its players.
Director: James Ivory.
Producer: Ismail Merchant.
Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and James Ivory.
Photography: Subrata Mitra.
Music: Satyajit Ray.
Editor: Amit Bose.
Shashi Kapoor (Sanju), Geoffrey Kendal (Tony Buckingham), Laura
Liddel (Carla), Felicity Kendal (Lizzie), Madhur Jaffrey (Manjula),
Jim Tytler (Bobby), Prayag Raaj (Sharmaji), Pincho Kapoor (Guptaji),Partap
Sharma (Aslam, the juvenile lead), Praveen Paul (Didjii, Manjula's
companion), Utpal Dutt (the Maharaja), Hamid Sayani (Deputy Headmaster),
Jenn ifer Kendal (Mrs. Bowen), Marcus Murch (Dandy in The Critic),
Ismail Merchant (Theater Owner), Sudarshan (Manjula's Dance Director).