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Happy Birthday, Shakespeare! What a storyteller you were!

Movies based on Shakespeare’s works that you can watch this weekend of April 23.

April 23, 2021 / 10:11 PM IST

‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here,’ Shakespeare wrote, and the news around us is proof of that. Now that we’re home, and washing our hands often like Lady Macbeth (Out, out, damned spot!), what better way to celebrate the birth as well as the death anniversary of the greatest storyteller that ever lived.

Most of us have been taught Shakespeare by teachers who just didn’t love him enough. Thankfully, mine instilled so much passion in the teaching that we fell in love with a man who wrote on just about everything there is to write. And he was way ahead of his time. Intelligent woman falling for a buffoon, parents blinded by love for children, adult children kicking parents from one sibling to another, courtroom drama and last-minute save, ambition making you kill your king, funny story about twins in a mixup, guilt after murder, feisty gal meeting macho hero, rivalry between fathers and romance between their children, macho hero falling for young man who’s dressed up to be woman, killing by jealous rage, prince and pauper, story of incest and, yes, people eating people.

The man did not stop here. He gave us insults that have lasted for centuries! Your mama is so fat (she’s spherical like a globe, I can find countries in her!) the very Indian ‘Ghutno mein akal’ probably has roots in the very Shakespearean, ‘Thou hast no more brain than I have in my elbows!’

The best of actors and directors have taken pride in being on stage ‘doing Shakespeare’: Ian McKellen, Lawrence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Burton, John Geilgud, Al Pacino, Patrick Stewart, Ralph Fiennes and, yes, Kenneth Branagh. We’ve all been subject to enacting Shakespeare for the annual school plays and can still remember how we laughed our heads off when Sister Louisa (who was gigantic) showed Neil (the gorgeous school cricket captain who was playing Romeo) how to kiss…

It takes Heath Ledger to entice us back to Shakespeare with his Ten Things I Hate About You which is based on Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew. It is my go-to rom com whenever I’m feeling miserable. Of course, Julia Stiles makes you want to be like her as well. The movie is on DisneyPlusHotstar. Get a large bowl of your favourite ice cream for this one, and forget you ever saw Jayalalithaa and Sivaji Ganesan play Kate and Petruchio in Pattikada Pattanama. The violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor as well as Meryl Streep have played Kate. The story of a shrewish heroine and man who will soften her have also been told in Korean The Frivolous Wife.


I belonged to a group that ridiculed the movies made in the late 80s and the early 90s in Bollywood. So when Vishal Bhardwaj cast Ajay Devgn as Othello in Omkara, I wondered if they were going to insult Shakespeare by showing Omkara make a Van Damme style entry as Ajay Devgn did in Phool Aur Kaante. How I had to swallow my laughs! Ajay Devgn made his screen presence felt with, ‘Shart ghodo par lagate hain, kathor, sheron par nahi.’ The film Omkara (is on Amazon Prime Video) had so many amazing actors that you will watch it not just for Konkona Sen Sharma or Kareena Kapoor or the item song ‘Bidi Jalaile’, but you will watch it for the most amazing villain, Langda Tyagi played by Saif Ali Khan. His jealous rage and calm threats made him a better Iago than perhaps Shakespeare intended…

Ethan Hawke played a very modern version of Hamlet in the movie made in 2000, but Shahid Kapur in and as Haider by Vishal Bhardwaj showed us why he is more than Rambo Rajkumar. The film, set in Kashmir covered in barbed wire, is one of the best retellings of Hamlet. The Bengali film Hemanta (stars Parambrata Chatterji) is also about divided loyalties and ‘to be or not to be’...Haider is on Netflix and Hemants is on Amazon Prime Video. Compare that to Mel Gibson’s Hamlet...

Cannot get over the ultimate version of the Scottish play that Vishal Bhardwaj owned. Shakespeare would have been proud to see Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri in Maqbool. The screams of Masumeh Makhija will remain with you much after the movie is over. It’s on DisneyPlusHotstar. The Royal Shakespeare Theater has most recordings of the plays performed on stage. They’re available on YouTube.

If you like zombies as well as Shakespeare, then you’ll have fun watching Warm Bodies on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a fun adaptation of the tragic Romeo and Juliet. You’ve loved Claire Danes and Leonardo Di Caprio in the movie by Baz Luhrman, but Warm Bodies takes the mickey out of a tragic tale of love. Not to mention you’ll begin to forgive Josh (Shah Rukh and Aiswarya Rai), Jet Li’s Romeo Must Die and can look forward to Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story to be released soon…

The story of King Lear has been told in several films, and the most publicly known version would be Baghban. However, Anthony Hopkins though does such a good job of being a patriarch who believes that if he gives away his property to his children who claim they love him, then the kids will look after him when he’s infirm. When the Oscar nominated film The Father shows up on your nearest streaming platform, you will realise what an amazing actor he is. In King Lear (on Amazon Prime Video) he simply gives us a masterclass in acting. Here is a glimpse:

If you think Vishal Bhardwaj is the only person who adapted Shakespeare, then you’d be incorrect. Gulzar’s Angoor was based on Shakespeare’s Comedy Of Errors. Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma’s comic timing is evident should you watch it on Amazon Prime Video. Rohit Shetty’s version of the same play, called Cirkus soon. The Bengali Bhranti Bilash may be ancient, but it has Uttam Kumar in a double role so worth trawling the net for the film.

Among Shakespeare’s comedies, my favourite is Midsummer Night’s Dream. You will see how awesome Michelle Pfeiffer and Stanley Tucci can be. The film is on Amazon Prime Video.

Shakespeare continues to inspire filmmakers even today. Two amazing films Shakespeare In Love and The Last Lear come to mind. Rituparno Ghosh’s Last Lear shows Amitabh Bachchan as an old stage actor living in the glory days of his past…

Those who claim that Shakespeare was too profound and only intellectuals can understand him, are wrong. Tell them he wrote movies! Or better yet, tell them he wrote dialog like, 'You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!’
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.

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