Mark Thornton Burnett, FEA, MRIA, is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast and PI of the ‘Indian Shakespeares’ project. He is the author of Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture: Authority and Obedience (1997), Constructing ‘Monsters’ in Shakespearean Drama and Early Modern Culture (2002), Filming Shakespeare in the Global Marketplace (2007; 2012), Shakespeare and World Cinema (2013) and ‘Hamlet’ and World Cinema (2019).
Shakespeare and Keraliyatha: Romeo and Juliet, Adaptation and South Indian Cinemas
This plenary explores Annayum Rasoolum/Anna and Rasool
(dir. Rajeev Ravi, 2013) and Eeda/Here
(dir. B. Ajithkumar, 2018), two recent film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet
from Kerala, south-west India. According to the ‘Kerala model’, a measure of local social and economic success, the state scores highly on a range of developmental indicators. In terms of literacy, education, sex ratio, life expectancy, the provision of social services, and infant and adult mortality rates, Kerala is generally favourably placed. However, in their intersections with Romeo and Juliet
, Annayum Rasoolum
situate the ‘star-crossed lovers’ in a regional milieu which challenges any easy notions of progress. These adaptations elaborate distinctive settings and geographies in their representation of political and religious contest. Conflict takes several forms, not least, as both films reveal, cycles of violence and social and sexual segregation. Taking Ratheesh Radhakrishnan’s claim that the recent Malayalam film prioritises Keraliyatha
or ‘Kerala-ness’, I argue that songs and rituals are key to the films’ imagining of the lovers in relation to local cultures. Illuminating here, therefore, is the emphasis on calendrical rituals, the coding of religious spaces, and soundtracks that intersect with the play via specifically Keralan musical idioms. Crucial to both films are scenarios that cut across barriers of affiliation; accordingly, Annayum Rasoolum
hold out the prospect of different futures, either through sub-narratives or conjurations of change. Yet, ultimately, both films fall back on ambiguated conclusions, whether these suggest themselves in cyclical narratives or spectacles of separation and precarity. In this way, even as they yearn for alternative realities, these cinematic adaptations affirm a less ameliorative construction of Kerala’s modernity and reflect dispassionately on the entangled histories that shape their imaginative possibility.