Six works by Shakespeare that inspired Indian cinema

The Bard in Bollywood


News - India & You

March 2, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

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Poster for Haider, by Vishal Bharadwaj, who is known for his adaptations of Shakespearean classics

Poster for Haider, by Vishal Bharadwaj, who is known for his adaptations of Shakespearean classics

The legacy of the Shakespeare is being kept alive in India through mainstream cinema interpreting his works in various ways.

Shakespeare’s plays have a universality to them that has seen continual adaptations, reinterpretations and explorations in various forms. Whether cinema, theatre or performance arts, India has contributed to its own understanding and shift in context of the essence of Shakespeare’s work. Here are some Bollywood productions inspired by the classic plays by the Bard.


Hamlet is a tale by Shakespeare that very succinctly captures ambition, love, jealousy and lust for power through familial relations, and quite a difficult plot to execute with all of its complexities to which the Oedipus complex is added. Adapted in Indian cinema in the 50s with an eponymously titled film, Hamlet has found regional cinema interpretations. However, it is the 2014 Bollywood remake by Shakespeare-lover, Vishal Bharadwaj, titled ‘Haider’, which captures the essence of the play while transforming its context to the troubled territory of Kashmir that has become a political background for the Indian and Pakistani state alike.

Romeo and Juliet

The classic tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet has been inspirational for filmmakers, theatricians, artists, poets and performers across the world. India is no exception, with this Shakespearean drama finding itself as the source of inspiration for many a Bollywood film. The 2013 Sanjay Leela Bhansali direction, ‘Goliyo Ki Raseela Ram Leela’ was one such adaptation, whose aesthetics were the only impressive bit. ‘Isaaq’ and ‘Ishaqzaade’, two movies that are inspired by Romeo and Juliet were delightful adaptations set in rural hinterlands of India. With the 2012 ‘Ishaqzaade’ set in Uttar Pradesh in northern India, this film, directed by Habib Faisal, brought a rustic appeal to the original Shakespearean tale.

Comedy of Errors

Comedy of Errors, a tale by Shakespeare, is also one play that has made its way to the big screens in commercial cinema of India. ‘Do Dooni Chaar’ from 1968, a film that was a Hindi remake of ‘Bhrantibilas’, a Bengali movie, whose plot is based loosely on Shakespeare’s comedic tale. A consequent adaptation of the play, ‘Angoor’ from 1962 was directed by Gulzar, and has been rated among top comedies of all times in Bollywood. With catchy songs and hilarious punchlines, ‘Angoor’ was a wonderful adaptation.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among his extremely popular works, explores relationships, marriage and love. A rather non-commercial and offbeat film, the 2010 release, ’10 ml LOVE’ was a Bollywood adaptation of this romantic comedy by Shakespeare. In the film, with an involvement of a love quadrangle, director Sharat Kataria has tried to adapt the tale in a modern day setting.


Othello, the dark tragedy by Shakespeare, continues to capture the imagination of many. Othello has inspired regional cinema in India, with films from Bengal, Kerala and other places, having been made through the years. However, it was truly brought to the big Bollywood screen by Bharadwaj’s ‘Omkara’, released in 2006. A tale that brings identity-based issues, such as caste and political stances, with Uttar Pradesh as the backdrop, ‘Omkara’ explores power and outlines the destructive nature of jealousy.


A tragedy by Shakespeare, Macbeth is another classic by the Bard that shows the dark side to ambition. A Bollywood exploration of the tragedy has been made by Bharadwaj (yes, he absolutely loves Shakespeare), in his 2003 Irrfan Khan and Tabu-starrer ‘Maqbool’. Transforming the stage of the original to the Mumbai underworld, ‘Maqbool’ is a brilliant take on the origin, with Lady Macbeth’s character to watch out for.



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