Five Decades Later Younger Crowd Enjoys Classic Film Shakespeare Wallah

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By Raj S. Rangarajan *

First released in 1965, Shakespeare Wallah – the film – has now been released as a new 4K scan and restoration from the original camera negative and magnetic soundtrack that featured a new 5.1 audio mix from the stereo 35 mm mags – all approved by director James Ivory.

Indophiles and those who came of age in the 50’s and 60’s would know of Geoffrey Kendal, an English actor-manager and his wife Laura Lidell who owned a traveling repertory company Shakespeareana. The theater troupe used to perform Shakespeare in the presence of Indian royalty, as also among villagers in India. Included in the audience were families of rural folk and school children who had no inkling of the English language.

Starring film actors Shashi Kapoor, Madhur Jaffrey, and a young Felicity Kendal, the film's inspiration lies in the real-life adventures of the Kendal family as a traveling theater group in India during the final days of English colonial rule. India became independent in 1947.

Reviewing the film was a challenge for this writer specially after 52 years. Film had it’s moments though. One had to patiently wait for action. In today’s social construct where speed and fast action are celebrated, I found myself unconsciously goading speedier action on the screen. My attitudes toward the film genre has obviously changed. However, it was nostalgic and fun to recall a younger Shashi Kapoor, younger Madhur Jaffrey, a young Felicity Kendal as also memories of mosquito nets, tropical climes and horse-drawn carriages.

The leisurely pace at which the film trotted along could have irritated the impatient viewer. However, after five decades, the film continues to entertain albeit slowly. If one likes Shakespeare and things bard, specially with earlier period costumes and styles of delivery, one will enjoy the film.

Madhur Jaffrey is the heroine and the film’s dynamic came through splendidly with two women – Madhur and Felicity – falling for the same man – dashing Shashi Kapoor. Carla Buckingham played Laura and Tony (Geoffrey) was the patriarch. In 1965, Madhur Jaffrey won a Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival.

The film captures the essence of a changing India, and depicts a relationship between an ingénue, a young Lizzie (Buckingham), and Sanju a well-to-do “playboy” of Indian origin. As one would expect, the romance faces hurdles in the form of fiery film actress Manjula’s schemes who also has an eye for this handsome bachelor. Madhur Jaffrey, is now also known for her culinary skills.

Film was directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. Well-known writer late Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Ismail Merchant were credited with the story and screenplay (see photo).  

Felicity’s younger sister Jennifer married Shashi Kapoor, both of whom later formed the Prithvi Theatre in 1951 Mumbai in honor of his father Prithviraj Kapoor, a doyen of theater and films. Jennifer died in 1984.

Acclaimed director Satyajit Ray's original musical score added to the classiness that the film reserved, specially since Shakespeare Wallah was the feature film that really put the Merchant-Ivory duo on the international movie map, winning them critical acclaim.

To use an Indianism, a good “time-pass” movie for a lazy Sunday!

* Raj S. Rangarajan is a New York based independent writer. He covers trend stories on art, reviews films and books for media based in New York, Toronto, Canada and India. He could be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

JULY 2018

Vol. 12 - No. 12


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