My first reaction to watching a movie from 1965, no matter how beautifully latest technology has restored it, was perhaps a little skeptical. I had the predictable apprehension of every millennial of dealing with something that we consider ancient!
But to my surprise and delight, I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful movie.
Shakespeare Wallah was first released in 1965. The story and screenplay by R. Prawer Jhabvala and James Ivory are simple and delicate. James Ivory, as the director, has done a remarkable job in portraying the various nuances of the time and keeping the storyline crisp (a few directors from the current lot can surely learn a lot!). Produced by Ismail Merchant with soulful music by Satyajit Ray, this movie tells a story of various shades of love.
The passionate love of an artist – the actors of the drama troupe – for their work, which pushes them to keep on presenting their work to the people, no matter what.
The innocent love of a young girl.
The flamboyant love of lust of a straddling young man drowned in power of wealth and youth.
The vexatious love of a woman who is in a perennial search for attention.
And of course, the melancholic love for your homeland when you are far away from home.
Based on the real-life adventures of Geoffrey Kendal, his wife Laura Liddell, their daughters, Jennifer and Felicity, and their Traveling Theater Group, Shakespeareana, Shakespeare Wallah highlights the story of a drama troupe, which stayed back in India after the Britishers left in 1947. This group of English artists performs on the various works of Shakespeare in India.
They receive much appreciation and even royal patronage, but the truth remains that their’s was a dying art, which in the face of the glamor of Bollywood, was losing its sheen.
The sharp contrast is seen when an actress from Bollywood, played excellently by Madhur Jeffrey, is hounded by people wherever she goes and the desperate attempt by Geoffery Kendal (Mr. Buckingham), to get a schoolmaster to agree to a performance by the troupe.
Shashi Kapoor is the dashing prince in Shakespeare Wallah and his resemblance to Ranbir Kapoor in looks and acting is uncanny. There are times when you can simply imagine Ranbir Kapoor in the movie, rather than his grand-uncle.
The young English girl, Lizzie (Felicity Kendal) falls hopelessly in love with Shashi Kapoor, who is the perfect casanova of the 60’s.
What entails is a tussle to claim the heart of this man, between two women who may have never met, unless it was for Sanju.
Meanwhile, Lizzie’s parents, the main artists of the troupe, realize the gradual decline of the popularity of their shows and often think about England. We see the beautiful locations of Shimla and revisit the grand rest houses of yore. For the lovers of Shakespeare, this one is a treat! With Othello, Hamlet and Merchant of Venice playing along, we find our Sanju displaying an equal amount of passion in pursuing young Lizzie.
But when she expresses her love and willingness to stay with him, he is simply unable to commit. With a broken heart, Lizzie agrees to her parent’s plea of visiting England and Shakespeare Wallah concludes with her leaving on a ship to visit a country, which is her own, but one, which she does not know to be so.
Cohen Media Group has done a fabulous job in restoring this gem of a movie, which is a must see for movie lovers!