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An old love story, retold

The 1965 classic Merchant Ivory film, Shakespeare Wallah, has been adapted into a play for the London stage but with a modern twist.

“The film was a metaphor for the end of the Raj but in the retelling our two nations have come of age,” said Emmeline Winterbotham, an English actress who chanced upon Shakespeare Wallah while living in India in the early 1990s with her British banker husband.

“I needed to bring it up-to-date,” added Emmeline, who used to act in Shakespeare plays in Delhi and has now written and directed the stage version, Baba Shakespeare, with a “ridiculously large multicultural cast of 17 actors and 10 dancers” for the Tower Theatre in London.

If picked by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the play could go on to the main stage in Stratford-upon-Avon in July.

The evocative black-and-white film tells of a troupe of British actors who tour newly independent India performing Shakespeare plays. It starred a handsome Shashi Kapoor, then 26 (and now an ailing 74), as Sanju, a carefree Indian who has a romance with a British woman, Lizzie Buckingham.

The latter was played by the late Jennifer Kendal whom Kapoor married in real life (their photographer son Karan lives in London, while daughter Sanjana ran the Prithvi Theatre in Bombay).

Sanju is also involved with a film actress, Manjula, played by Madhur Jaffrey, who won the Silver Bear for Best Actress in Berlin for her performance.

The original music by Satyajit Ray has been replaced in the play by a fresh composition.

Emmeline recalled: “Do you remember the Shashi Kapoor character Sanju talks of wanting to be a film director? I decided that if I tell it through his eyes in 2012 there is different perspective on it. It is no longer about the end of the Raj — it is about two cultures who can look at each other in a mature way and take the best of each other.”

As for the ill-fated Sanju-Lizzie romance, Emmeline said that in the film, “the time was wrong, the time was the new India — it was about the end of the British (in India) and unfortunately their love story got caught up in that time and their two communities were moving in opposite directions. Had the time been now he would have chosen differently. But Sanju, sadder, older and wiser, is now able to look back and reflect more clearly on the personal choice with some regret; still celebrating the fact that even though he lost Lizzie, Shakespeare survived in India. And that we have a lot to offer each other.”

 

Bigger B

Emmeline Winterbotham’s husband, James, made an intriguing discovery while researching the background to Shakespeare Wallah.

The script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was loosely based on the real life story of Jennifer Kendal’s father, Geoffrey Kendal, who travelled around India with his theatre group, Shakespearana.

The troupe visited Sherwood College in Nainital and set up the Geoffrey Kendal Cup for Dramatics, which was awarded in 1956 and 1957 to a promising boy who later went on to make a bit of name for himself in Bollywood.

“His name was Amitabh Bachchan,” said Emmeline.

She returned last year for a reconnaissance trip that followed the original route of the Kendals across India. “I saw Amitabh Bachchan on set which was pretty exciting.”

“Shakespeare is everywhere in India but most particularly in Bollywood,” Emmeline went on. “So many Bollywood plots are based on Shakespeare stories — Angoor, Maqbool.”

Bachchan himself has confirmed: “Mr (Geoffrey) Kendal with his Shakespearana had visited Sherwood College in Nainital with his plays and during one of his visits initiated the Kendal Cup for Dramatics to be presented to the best actor of the year. In my second year in Sherwood, I won the best actor cup for the play Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol, the great Russian playwright.”

Some film industry folk say if Shakespeare had been alive today, he would probably have a rival Twitter account, @bard_biggerB.

 

Wife No. 4

George Galloway, a maverick former Labour MP, made big headlines when he won Bradford West in a by-election recently for Respect, a party he set up to give voice to his anti-war sentiments.

Bradford is the city with the biggest Muslim population — about 75,000 and mainly Pakistani Mirpuris — in Britain. In Bradford West, 38 per cent of the electorate is Pakistani Muslim.

Galloway has now made even bigger headlines by taking a fourth wife, Indonesian-born Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, the day after his election triumph.

To be fair, Galloway is not married to four women at the same time. In fact, his third wife, Lebanese Rima Husseini, who had the couple’s second son only four months ago, has protested: “We are still married under Islamic law.”

Rima’s mother Maha predicted that Galloway, nicknamed “Gorgeous George” by Britain’s tabloids, “will have another wife next year”.

Galloway, who was born a Catholic, wed his teenage sweetheart Elaine Fyffe in 1979. They divorced in 1999, by which time he had already married Palestinian scientist Dr Ammineh Abu-Zayyad in a Muslim ceremony. By the time of his second “divorce”, he had a son with Rima, whom he also wed in a Muslim ceremony.

Galloway’s talents have been recognised by the Pakistan government which has given him “the Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azzam for services to the restoration of democracy in Pakistan 30 years ago and the Hilal-i-Pakistan for my work for the freedom of Kashmir”.

Galloway’s new wife is 27, his junior by 30 years, indicating “he now likes older women”, according to the tabloids.

 

Pakora politics

If Boris Johnson wins the mayoral election on May 3, it may be partly because he has promised to defend the humble pakora.

Following the government’s controversial proposal to slap value added tax (VAT) at 20 per cent on hot snacks such as Cornish pasties, Boris has promised Indians: “If the treasury were so deranged as to impose VAT not just on hot pasties but (also) on hot pakoras, I would weigh in on your behalf.”

One assumes his support will extend to the samosa, an item now available at supermarkets and — as Amartya Sen would confirm — even at High Table at Trinity College, Cambridge.

 

Summer's lease:Crab apple in full bloom

Passing time

Strange are the things that bind you to England. At this time of year, the crab apple in the back garden bursts into full bloom but only for a few days, heralding the arrival of spring and the passage of time. We always think of two of our cats buried under the tree.

 

Tittle tattle

Britain’s first Muslim comedienne, Shazia Mirza, who was born in Birmingham of Pakistani parents, tells me she is hoping to perform soon in Bangalore — providing she gets a visa.

Shazia, a friend since she started doing stand-up comedy a decade ago, gets ruder with each show — which is why Asian women seem to love her.

She may be ready for Bangalore but is Bangalore ready for her?

“My English friends say to me, ‘How can you have an arranged marriage and sleep with a man you have never met before?’” she quips. “I tell them, ‘Why, you do that all the time!’”