From Stage to Screen: The Best Film & Show Adaptations of Shakespeare's Plays
<strong>From Stage to Screen: The Best Film & Show Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Plays</strong>

Remembering Shakespeare on his 407th death anniversary this month, we’ve picked through the vast range of Indian films that drew inspiration from the legendary playwright’s iconic works

Without discussing Shakespeare’s legacy, neither poetry nor theatre would be complete. His role in the entertainment industry remains pivotal over four centuries after his death, and has proved to be the foundation for many other forms of art, developed long after the Elizabethan era. From Manu Sen’s Bhranti Bilas in 1963 to Rohit Shetty’s 2022 period-comedy Cirkus, his works have served as an inspiration to generations of Indian filmmakers as well. Here’s a list of films and shows that draw upon Shakespeare’s iconic 37 plays and continue to prove his appeal across cultures, languages, and time itself: 


Omkara, 2005 (Othello) 



Owing to its intense and hard-hitting content, this movie has risen in popularity over the years. Adapted by director Vishal Bhardwaj with all the desi tadka essential to impress the Indian audience, the filmmaker attempted to use the play’s original motifs of passion, jealousy and race to mirror modern India’s sociocultural conflicts, focusing on caste and the victimisation of women. Interestingly, while Othello’s women remain largely passive, Omkara’s female characters, especially Konkona Sen Sharma’s Indu, are fiercely independent and are at the centre of many iconic scenes in the film. 


Maqbool, 2003 (Macbeth) 



Bhardwaj’s second film and the first of his many Shakespeare adaptations, Maqbool takes the original’s story away from the Kingdom of Scotland into the bustling streets of Mumbai, retaining the same dark tone to form a chilling crime drama. Thugs from the criminal underworld run the police department, while pandits and corrupt policemen — decidedly desi figures — replace the witches from the original. 


Angoor, 1982 (The Comedy of Errors) 



Gulzar’s take on the Shakespearean comedy has a long history of adaptations behind it, having been a remake of Do Dooni Chaar (1968), which itself was a remake of the aforementioned Bhranti Bilas (1963), which in turn was an adaptation of an earlier play by the same name, speaking to the plot’s amazing longevity. As one of the few comedies made by Gulzar, the film retains his signature style and isn’t afraid to deviate significantly from the original. 


Star-Crossed, 2014 (Romeo and Juliet) 



In this underrated sci-fi CW drama, aliens arrive in a group, and one of them develops feelings for a human female. As the extra-terrestrials try to fit into human society, the two fall in love, but just like in Romeo and Juliet, their colliding factions get in the way — leading to a classic tragic love story. 


House of Cards, 2013 (Richard III) 



Evolving into one of the most-watched political dramas in history, House of Cards offers a chilling, modern rendition of Shakespeare’s own commentary on power, and the lengths people will go to obtain it. When it comes to playing the ultimate Machiavellian protagonist, both Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood and King Richard III leave a lasting impression on viewers. Interestingly, Robin Wright’s leading character, Claire, has been likened to Lady Macbeth by critics, showcasing another link to Shakespeare. 


Succession, 2018 (King Lear) 



Succession’s plot centres on the life of a media mogul who must choose how to split his money and steer his business’ future, while King Lear faces the same challenge of devising a strategy to distribute his wealth among his heirs. Though King Lear was written as a tragedy, Succession uses a heavy dose of black comedy to pick apart the lives of the uber-wealthy while replacing divine providence with the ideas of fame, wealth, and power. 


Nanjundi Kalyana, 1989 (The Taming of the Shrew) 



Kannada culture has a long-standing association with theatre — so it’s unsurprising that Shakespeare would become a key influence for local playwrights and eventually, filmmakers. In order to address the gendered concerns expressed by Shakespeare’s play, the film challenges existing norms in its representation of women, family, and dharma, with a rich regional flavour to its settings and storyline. It became an instant hit on release, running in cinemas for 90 weeks. 


Veeram, 2017 (Macbeth) 



In order to create this movie, director Jayaraj was inspired by both Macbeth and a North Malabar folktale. In the play, a trio of witches prophesise to a Scottish general that he will one day take on the throne of Scotland. Veeram instead tells its tale through the eyes of the real-life folk figure of Chandu Chekavar, who dabbles with black magic and the Malabar martial art of Kalarippayattu before chasing his destiny and, like Macbeth, succumbing eventually to guilt and madness. 

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