Tony Buckingham (Geoffrey Kendal) and his wife Carla (Laura Lidell) are the actor-managers of a troupe of traveling Shakespearean actors in post-colonial India; they must grapple with a diminishing demand for their craft as the English theatre on the subcontinent is supplanted by the emerging genre of Indian film. Lizzie Buckingham (Felicity Kendal), the couple’s daughter, falls in love with Sanju (Shashi Kapoor), a wealthy young Indian playboy who is also involved in a romance with the glamorous Bombay film star Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey). The Buckinghams, for whom acting is a profession, a lifestyle, and virtually a religion, must weigh their devotion to their craft against their concern over their daughter’s future in a country which, it seems, no longer has a place for her.
Like its title, Shakespeare Wallah is a film of unexpected juxtapositions and cultural conflict; it is a look at changing values in art, and an examination of the question of what it means to be indigenous to a place. The nomadic lifestyle of the poor players — artfully shown through many scenes of their fretful peregrinations around India — provides the visual enactment of the problem of the Buckinghams’ rootlessness, as here we find the first Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala exploration of that subject, the great dilemma for Merchant Ivory characters from Lizzie Buckingham to Ruth Wilcox in Howards End. “Everything is different when you belong to a place. When it’s yours,” Carla Buckingham quietly and regretfully tells her daughter, the young Englishwoman who was born in India and has never stepped foot on the soil of her “home” country. —Merchant Ivory Productions
Thanks to the content of his films, American director James Ivory has spent much of his long career being mistaken for an Englishman. Few filmmakers have been more closely associated with a particular type of genre than Ivory and his longtime collaborator, producer Ismail Merchant. The very mention of the hyphenate Merchant-Ivory effortlessly conjures up heavily stylized images of Edwardian England, replete with stiff upper lips, effete aristocrats, and young women confined by both corsets and repressed desire. However, although much of Ivory’s reputation has been built on his E.M. Forster-adapted period dramas, he has also earned considerable respect for the insightful examinations on the interplay of different cultures inherent in almost all of his work — particularly his earlier films about India — and his and Merchant’s ability to make quality films on a minimal budget.
Born in Berkeley, California, on June 7, 1928, Ivory grew up in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where his father… read more
Merchant Ivory's second film, beautifully scored by Satyajit Ray, is one of the jewels in their crown of achievements. The Kendal family draw on their own experiences to portray a family of travelling players bringing Shakespeare to the masses. The tone is mournful and elegiac throughout as their fortunes in post-Raj India are on a downward trend with the locals now entranced by movies instead of theatre. A delight..
A very slight, very early Merchant Ivory film, Shakespeare Wallah is really more of a character study than the usual lush, picturesque films Merchant Ivory would later produce. That's not a bad thing, either. Felicity Kendal, in her first role, is extraordinary, full of emotion and charm. Just, the story and the technicalities are rough. But the actors are good enough to save it.
A good story about decay and finding away to to turn your way around. An actress choosing between staying in India or going to England, a film actor choosing between fame on film & true happiness on stage, a troupe choosing between accepting people masses not liking shakespeare anymore or returning home with a FAILURE sign on 'em. Beautiful cinematography, which makes it quite vivid.
I loved the look, the pacing, the way the Shakespearean lines play off the film’s plot, and especially Felicity Kendal & Shashi Kapoor. It avoids a lot of the cliches found in many films that deal… read review
This movie certainly had its moments, primarily when it focused on the separation between Lizzie’s life as an actor and Sanju’s (and the audience’s) life as a spectator. Perhaps a bit of sociopolitical… read review