Shakespeare in South Asian Cinema: Beyond the Canon - NeMLA 2021 Convention

deadline for submissions: 
October 11, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Chris McComb/University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)
contact email: 

This panel - for NeMLA's 2021 Convention - explores past and current South Asian cinema's use of Shakespearean drama to respond to three questions. First, to what extent are South Asian filmmakers concerned with reenacting the Western dramatic canon? Second, at what point and why do South Asian filmmakers use Shakespeare as a springboard to explore problems and values that are only tangentially Shakespeare's? Third, what are these problems and values and how to they resonate for today’s global, wired audience?

There are hundreds of examples of South Asian films of Shakespeare plays. The most frequently filmed plays are probably HamletRomeo and JulietMacbethOthello, and A Midsummer's Night Dream; all of these have been filmed numerous times, but other plays also have a strong cinematic presence. The quickest glance at MIT's Global Shakespeare Web site ( reinforces the long and continuing presence of Shakespeare in South Asian culture.

It would seem, however, that Haider by Vishal Bhardwaj attempts something radical that sets the stage for an even more interesting use of Shakespeare in South Asia cinema. Three facets of this film alert us to important trends: first and arguably most importantly, the use of the Hamlet narrative as a lens onto politics in Kashmir; second, the introduction of major, essential character changes in Ophelia, Gertrude, and Hamlet père, the introduction of music and singing from South Asian traditions (Intisaab by Faiz Ahmad Faiz) that deepens the shift away from canonical Shakespeare towards a truly, fully South Asian Hamlet.

Because of the radicality of Bhardwaj's work, we think that it is a propitious time to re-examine the entire tradition of Shakespearean film in South Asian culture.