An Over-spiced Tale
Poonam Trivedi
MASALA SHAKESPEARE: HOW A FIRANGI WRITER BECAME INDIAN by Jonathan Gil Harris Aleph Book Company, 2018, 298 pp., 799
July 2019, volume 43, No 7

Shakespeare and India have had a long, nearly 250 year old, relationship which has gone through many phases and has been the subject of much comment and some study. Masala Shakespeare by Jonathan Gil Harris is the latest attempt to address this interaction. It is a highly personalized view of a western academic trying to come to terms with an ‘India’ best represented to him by its Shakespearean interactions. According to him the concept of ‘masala’—a spicy mixture—epitomized by Bollywood formula films sums up most aptly not only Indian versions of Shakespeare, but also the hitherto disregarded but essentially plural dimensions of Shakespeare’s craft. These two, Shakespeare and India, he believes are ‘twins’… ‘as similar as do angoor’, the output of both comprising mixed up genres, languages, ‘double identities, double meanings’ and ‘double locations’ with ‘naach gaana’.Through five chapters with sub sections, representing the five act/scene structure of the Shakespearean play, he takes us on a breezy, very wide ranging, informative, at times witty and allusive ride through twelve plays of Shakespeare which have figured prominently in the Indian performative sphere, particularly in films, but all refracted through a masala drenched lens. Thus, the Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, Titus Andronicus, Pericles and The Tempest and their Indian redactions are seen as existing in ‘a world of masala’ and interpreted according to entities of ‘masala identities’, ‘masala lovers’, ‘masala languages and idioms’, ‘masala sensibility’, ‘masala genders’, even ‘cosmic masala’, all of which lead him to the conclusion that ‘India with its mixed up genealogies has always been Shakespearean. Indian masala and Masala Shakespeare are twins’(p.26).

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