Shakespeare in South Asian Cinema: The Canon in Flux

Chris McComb's picture
Call for Papers
October 5, 2020 to October 8, 2020
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Literature

This panel is a part of the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) 51st Annual Conference in Boston, MA from October 5, 2020 to October 8, 2020.

Please submit a 250-300-word abstract to Chris McComb at by September 30, 2019.

Description: This panel 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 problems that are only tangentially Shakespeare's? Third, do South Asian filmmakers use Shakespeare as a way of representing and communicating deep issues in South Asian or global culture that require a persona that is well known and generally accepted by the public?

There are hundreds of examples of South Asian films of Shakespeare plays. The most frequently filmed plays are probably Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, 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.

While the focus of the session is on Shakespeare, presenters are welcome to include works other than Shakespeare as much as they like.

Contact Info: 

Chris McComb

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