Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bollywood / Hollywood

Bollywood / Hollywood. Dir. Deepa Mehta. Perf. Rahul Khanna, Lisa Ray, Moushumi Chatterjee, Dina Pathak, and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. 2002. DVD. Arts Alliance, 2005.

In what is almost—but not quite—a complete shifting of gears, we head to a quirky little film in which East and West meet and in which Shakespeare plays a part.

Bollywood / Hollywood presents a better-than-the-usual-but-still-on-the-usual-side romantic comedy plot. The plot is on the western side, but the characters and the working out of the plot are on the eastern side, which includes the delightful Bollywood convention of suddenly breaking into gigantic song-and-dance numbers.

The Shakespeare comes in with the character of the male lead's grandmother. The grandmother continually quotes from Shakespeare—though always inaccurately, however slight the inaccuracy may be. At first, I thought the misquoting was unintentional: it seemed to be nothing more than the way common usage operates. But thinking about it more and more led me to believe that it's intentional.

In the image above, the grandmother says, "This is the winter of our discontent"—an ever-so-slight variation of Richard III's "Now is the winter of our discontent." Were it only that, there wouldn't be much to go on.

But the slight misquotations pile up. The grandmother says, "Et tu, Brutus" instead of "Et tu, Brute." She expands a contraction, saying "What is done is done" instead of "What's done is done."

I know. It seems like I'm being incredibly (and, I hope, uncharacteristically) picky. But my point is that even the smallest quote is altered in some way—and that that points toward the intentionality behind the grandmother's variable Shakespeare.

It's present in small quotes, but it's even more evident in larger quotes:
"But soft what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and so is the sun."

"How’s this made of the blood, still? All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."

"I am here not to bury Caesar but to praise him"
After that last topsy-turvy quotation, the grandson makes an inquiry into the origin of the quote: "Shakespeare?" The grandmother replies, not quite convincingly, "I don’t know. What’s the difference?" I don't believe that she doesn't know; I also don't believe that she's indifferent to the difference—the person she's misquoting matters.

In the scene below, the grandmother alters—again, it's only slightly—the opening of Jaques' big speech in As You Like It: "All the world is a stage, and all men and women are mere players."

"Mere players" from "merely players" and "all men and women" from "all the men and women" changes the image from one of actors putting on a play to a more modern use of "player"—one that the OED cites as in use (often spelled "playa" and pronounced "play-ahh") from 1962: "A sexually successful person, usually a man; a playboy." The alteration fits the plot (the grandmother is worried that neither her grandson nor the female lead are serious about a romantic relationship), and it indicates the grandmother's moral position on flippant sexual activity: such people only rise to the level of "playahhs," never to true romance.

The overall intention of the misquotations is really appropriation. The grandmother appropriates Shakespeare's language for her own ends. In doing so, she demonstrates that the relationship between us and Shakespeare can be much more fluid than it is often taken to be. And the fact that she is a member of an Indian culture can point toward a larger issue: the engagement of Shakespeare and Asia. Enter Postcolonial Literary Criticism and the relationship between the texts of the colonizing agent and the colonized!


Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest