Dear readers, I will be familiarising a few Shakespearean adaptations into regional languages in my few editions. As a part of my study, a minor research on Shakespeare across cultures, I came across very different takes on The Bard’s plays by able directors, when he was screened. Shakespeare is still in India, as he’s across the world!
Among the local adaptations of Shakespeare on Screen, here are a few that I would like to mention, that is screened for a targeted audience in their own language, Malayalam:
Annayaum Rasoolum (Romeo & Juliet)
Kannaki (Antony and Cleopatra)
Speaking of the three among the above five films, Kaliyattam, Kannaki and Veeram, were from the Director, Jayaraj. In one of his interviews, he speaks of his enduring fascination with the Bard and how his characters haunted him!
‘The tragedy of Othello haunted me for many nights. Why would a man so much in love with his wife, kill her?’ in his interview with The Hindu, the Director exclaims.
Kaliyattam: The movie was not a mere adaptation, rather it was a creative one! Seasoned with the colours of folk art of Malabar, Theyyam, the movie won both critical and popular votes. ‘I have seen European audience sitting spell bound watching Kaliyattam. It’s a great feeling when an international crowd appreciates your take on Shakespeare,’ says Jayaraj.
Jayaraj’s Othello is drawn in the backdrop of Theyyam community. Othello becomes Kannan Perumalayan, Desdemona becomes his beautiful wife, Tamara. Iago, the villain, becomes Paniyan. Perumalayan is a Theyyam artist who loved Tamara, the daughter of the village head, Unni Thampuran. (Brabantio) Thampuran hated Kannan for having an affair with Tamara as result of which, Paniyan who plays a Koomali, covets the role of Theechamundi which Kannan holds. Paniyan successfully plants the seeds of doubt of Tamara’s fidelity in Kannan’s mind, making him suspect that Tamara and his assistant Kanthan are having an affair.
Kannan, frustrated and furious, takes the life of Tamara by suffocating her with a pillow. Paniyan plans to kill Kanthan on the same night, but the plan goes awry. Kannan is told of his mistake by Paniyan’s wife, Cheerma, before she gets killed by Paniyan. Kannan crushes Paniyan’s legs with a stone, but doesn’t kill him, thus allowing him to live the rest of his life crippled. Kannan gives the Thhechamundi role to Kanthan and commits suicide.
The Contadiction: The duality of Theyyam with the intrinsic conflict and contradiction that lies in the heart of Othello is intelligently portrayed by the Director. The contradiction of his nature is seen throughout the film. The most evident contradiction is the one that comes with the class and caste identity of Kannan. While outside the performative space he’s nothing but a lower caste performer, who eloped with an upper caste girl, within the performative space, he gains the status of a goddess. Perhaps this is a major deviation the movie takes from the original hero of Shakespeare. Thampuran never lets his men touch Kannan who was just about to perform. He bows down in front of Kannan, and asks for the blessings of the Goddess he is impersonating. Theyyam was the only means to bring out a split personality. The same dichotomy was there in Othello’s mind also.
The schism that existed in Kannan’s mind due to jealousy and the insecurities he had about his lower caste, dark skin and that Tamara can never love him made him feel alienated. The very divide Othello felt, is the same!
The final scene of violence is very different in the movie. Kannan enters Tamara’s chamber with half of his makeup on, indicating that he’s between human and divine realms. Makeup plays a major role in making the last scene look more terrifying. Theyyam provides the right canvas to paint the contradictions and similarities of Kannan/Othello. Thus, Malabar became another Venice and Cyprus!