Shakespeare in India

Shakespeareby Poonam Trivedi

The most striking aspect of Shakespeare in India today is that it seems to have at last got over its colonial hangover. It is well known that Shakespeare was first introduced to Indians under the aegis of colonialism: first as an entertainer for the expatriates, then soon incorporated into the civilizing mission of the empire. This resulted in Indians being awed by Shakespeare, taking him too respectfully, especially in academia. Although the productions of the Parsi theatre in late nineteenth and early twentieth century treated the bard in a cavalier fashion, mixing and mashing up his plays into hybrid and melodramatic versions, they were considered populist travesties and an embarrassment by Indian academics. After this there was a period of faithful translation and performance, followed by one of creative adaptation and assimilation in indigenous theatre forms, to the current moment when an irreverent attitude is to be found, which feels free to bounce its own concerns off his works and ‘play’ around with them.

Globalisation and the increasing accessibility of the Internet is a strong contributory factor in creating a new post-colonial confidence, particularly in the young, for doing it their way. An arts foundation in Chennai holds an annual festival called ‘Hamara (our) Shakespeare’ seemingly eliding the past and asserting a new affinity with the poet. ‘Scenes from Shakespeare’, an annual short play competition held by the Shakespeare Society of India in Delhi, is going from strength to strength: it had so many entries last year that the performances had to be staggered over two days. Even as I write, a ‘Re-imagining Shakespeare’ Festival is scheduled at another university: adaptation, translation, pastiche and parody all seem to gel with the words of Shakespeare. The most telling example of this freedom of approach towards Shakespeare was seen in the ‘Great Indian Shakespeare Festival’ organized by students of an Engineering and Technological University in August last year where I was the plenary speaker. They performed a version of Julius Caesar set in the cut-throat board rooms of the corporate world which lead to some surprises – like Caesar being deposed as CEO but spared the knife. When asked ‘Why Shakespeare?’ The group leader, a mechanical engineer, said he that he wanted to ‘dig deep into the words and metaphors coined by Shakespeare.’

The transnational success of Vishal Bharadwaj’s trilogy of Hindi films, Maqbool (Macbeth, 2003), Omkara (Othello, 2006), and Haider (Hamlet, 2014) has also given fillip to the acculturative impulse. All three films have kept quite close to the original text while relocating it in contemporary India. More and more, the local seems to be able to converse with Shakespeare.

Stage productions too are not lagging behind. Rajat Kapoor has produced two unconventional versions: Hamlet the Clown Prince in which a group of clowns discuss and then enact, in their own inimitable manner, the challenge of performing the greatest tragedy in the world, Hamlet; and Lear, in which an aging actor recounts his life in an effort to make amends with his daughter. A Merchant of Venice performed in English, directed by Vikram Kapadia, was set among contemporary Mumbai stock brokers. The most distinctive has been Piya Behrupiya (Beloved as Trickster), an adaptation of Twelfth Night directed by Atul Kumar, which was commissioned for the Globe to Globe festival of 2012. Taking a cue from its most famous line ‘if music be the food of love…’ it reconceived the play as a musical (not many known operatic versions) playing up the comic confusions of identity and love.

The levels and types of engagement with Shakespeare in India are diverse and increasing. Purists may be appalled at the post-modernist piecemeal encounters, but they need not be seen as desecrations of a literary icon. Rather, they reveal a truth which has to be universally acknowledged that Shakespeare is now a world author, and in the Indian context, detached from the colonial baggage, he continues to speak in strange and wondrous forms to newer generations.


Poonam Trivedi has edited India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and Performance (2006) and Re-playing Shakespeare in Asia (2010); and is currently working on Shakespeare and Indian Cinemas. She was Associate Professor at University of Delhi, India.



Asian Readers’ Group starts at Slough Library

ALAG is proud to share some great news with you. Following on from activities which took place during Cityread 2015, members have been working in partnership with staff at Slough Libraries to provide a regular,  free reading group for those members of the local Slough community who choose to read in Urdu, Hindi and / or Panjabi.

The group will meet once a month on the first Wednesday starting on Wednesday 2nd December 2015 from 1.30 – 2.30pm. ALAG Chairperson, Gulshan Iqbal will facilitate the group whose first task will be to choose a new name and what they plan to read.

Anyone who reads or speaks the above languages is welcome to attend and light refreshments will be available. Poetry, fiction and author biographies will be just a few of the things open to discussion. Come along and join in the fun!

Asian Readers' Group 021215

Many thanks  to Simon Smith, Head of Slough Libraries and Audience Development Office Gaby Koenig for their help and support throughout the planning process and beyond.







Ace videographer Sophie Williams and the fabulous Look Left Look Right team have created this short video trail for Cityread 2014:

Click on the link to watch your favourite characters from My Dear I wanted to tell you by Louisa Young, come to life and get a taste of the many Cityread events and activities which will be taking place throughout April!



Greetings from ALAG!

Welcome to This is the website for ALAG (Asian Librarians and Advisers Group). You will find everything you want to know about ALAG both past, present and any future plans ALAG members want you to know about.

Thank you for visiting our page. Click on the links on the right to find what you are looking for.  ALAG members would love to hear your news views and comments about what you see and read hear so do please feel free to post your comments by clicking on the comments link and follow the on-screen instructions.

We are always looking to welcome new members so find out how you can join and become active in promoting  libraries, books and reading. Click on the categories menu on the right for membership details.

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