Monday, March 17, 2014
Directed by James Ivory and written by Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Shakespeare Wallah is the story of traveling acting family who arrive into India for work as they deal with dwindling audiences and the rise of Bollywood. The film is an exploration into the world of changing times as well as trying to see if there’s an audience for Shakespeare in India. Starring Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Geoffrey Kendal, Madhur Jaffrey, and Laura Liddell. Shakespeare Wallah is a majestic film from the famed Merchant-Ivory team.
The film is about a world where times are changing in India as Bollywood starts to take center stage while a famed British acting troupe that is known for traveling from city to city to perform Shakespeare find themselves dealing with these changing times. Meanwhile, the daughter of the troupe’s leader falls in love with a playboy who is also attached to a very vain Bollywood actress as he starts to appreciate the world of theater despite its dwindling audience. It’s a film that plays into a world where old meets new and the struggle to keep an art form vital during these changing times. Especially as a young actress in Lizzie Buckingham (Felicity Kendal) is just starting to grow but has to face the reality that doing Shakespeare in India might not be her future as it’s the only thing she knows.
The film’s screenplay by James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala not only explores the life of an acting troupe that is struggling to playing to small audiences who are becoming more interested with Bollywood. They’re also struggling with an uncertain future that would affect the troupe, led by Tony Buckingham (Geoffrey Kendal) and his wife Carla (Laura Liddell), where they contemplate about going to Britain to get work or stay in India to try and continue as they still have some respect from theater managers and agents. Among those who are interested in their work is the playboy Sanju (Shashi Kapoor) who witnesses one of their performances and falls in love with Lizzie.
Yet, he has to deal with his mistress Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey) who is becoming a major star who is annoyed by Sanju’s interested towards Lizzie. Even as she would try to humiliate Lizzie where she later attends the troupe’s performance of Othello late in show where her appearance would divert the audience’s attention towards her much to Sanju’s embarrassment. It would play into what Sanju wants and what Lizzie wants but also into the uncertain future they might face as Sanju would also have to deal with a very disruptive and ignorant Indian audience.
Ivory’s direction is quite entrancing for the way he presents India where the film is set at a time where the country had just gained independence from the United Kingdom and were starting to forge their own ideas of arts and culture. Ivory’s compositions and the way he presents India coming into its own is just amazing to look at while he also creates some very enchanting moments in the theatrical performances the Buckinghams do. Even as Ivory maintains that sense theatricality and intimacy in these productions as opposed to the more looser style of a film set where Manjula is acting in a film. The use of wide and medium shots allow Ivory to play into that sense of changing times but through subtle means while ensuring that sense of drama as he would create some beautiful scenes such as Sanju’s first kiss with Lizzie. Overall, Ivory crafts a very delicate and rich film about a family facing changing times in India.
Cinematographer Subrata Mitra does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography that has this look that is similar to the European films of the times where it is rich in its imagery as it includes some gorgeous lighting schemes. Editor Amit Bose does nice work with the editing to play into the rhythms of some of the moments that occur on stage as well as some of the drama in the film. Costume designer Jennifer Kendal does excellent work with the costumes from the costumes the troupe wears on stage to the posh clothes of Manjula. Sound editor Prabhakar Suqare does terrific work with the sound to play into the intimacy of the theater as well as some of the sounds of the locations the characters encounter. The film’s music by Satyajit Ray is superb for its mixture of orchestral music with traditional Indian folk music to play into that world of India.
The film’s amazing cast includes appearances from producer Ismail Merchant as a theater owner, Jennifer Kendal as a friend of the family, Partap Sharma as an Indian actor who joins the troupe, and Praveen Paul as an aging actor dealing with the changing times. Madhur Jaffrey is fantastic as Manjula as this very manipulative Bollywood star who tries to pull Sanju away from Lizzie as she would do whatever to embarrass him and make him come to her. Laura Liddell and Geoffrey Kendal as excellent as Lizzie’s parents in Clara and Tony Buckingham, respectively, as the troupe leaders trying to make sense of their dwindling fortunes.
Shashi Kapoor is superb as Sanju as this playboy who falls for a British girl as he struggles with his different love affairs and his newfound appreciation for Shakespearian theater. Finally, there’s Felicity Kendal in a radiant performance as Lizzie Buckingham as this young woman who starts to grow as an actress while dealing with her feelings for Sanju and the uncertainty of her acting career.
Shakespeare Wallah is a remarkable from the Merchant-Ivory team that features top-notch performances from Shashi Kapoor and Felicity Kendal. The film is definitely an intriguing look into the world of India coming into its own where Britons deal with changing times. Even as an Indian starts to find appreciation for the world of William Shakespeare as his people look towards something else. In the end, Shakespeare Wallah is a marvelous film from James Ivory and the Merchant-Ivory team.
James Ivory Films: The Householder - (The Dehli Way) - (The Guru) - Bombay Talkie - (Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilization) - (Savages (1972 film)) - (Autobiography of a Princess) - (The Wild Party) - (Roseland) - (Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie’s Pictures) - (The Five Forty-Eight) - (The Europeans) - (Jane Austen in Manhattan) - (Quartet (1981 film)) - (Heat and Dust) - (The Bostonians) - A Room With a View - Maurice - (Slaves of New York) - (Mr. & Mrs. Bridges) - Howards End - The Remains of the Day - (Jefferson in Paris) - (Surviving Picasso) - (A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries) - (The Golden Bowl) - (Le Divorce) - (The White Countess) - (The City of Your Final Destination)
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