One of the first Merchant Ivory productions, the sumptuous Shakespeare Wallah established the tone for so many of the collaborations to come from producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory: the deft, multilayered screenplay by their frequent collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, luminous cinematography, a wry sense of humor and a cast of characters rich in their very human complexity.
Cohen Film Collection’s new restoration of the film, released in theaters nationwide in 2017, came from the 35mm composite fine grain master held at the archive of the George Eastman Museum. The scan and 2K digital restoration was completed in conjunction with the British Film Institute’s Unlocking Film Heritage program. This breakthrough film is now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.
The true story of British actor-manager Geoffrey Kendal and his family of traveling theatrical players is used as a fascinating lens into the ever-evolving relationship between Great Britain and India. The film follows Tony Buckingham (Geoffrey Kendal) and his wife, Carla (Laura Liddell), as the actor-managers of a troupe who travel through ’60s post-colonial India staging Shakespeare’s plays. But the Buckinghams come to realize to their dismay that classic English theater is falling out of favor in a changing country where the public has become more excited by the explosion of vibrant Bollywood films – and, more deeply, is looking to move beyond everything British. Meanwhile, the Buckinghams’ daughter Lizzie (future Britcom favorite Felicity Kendal) becomes involved in a love triangle that would fit perfectly in both a Shakespeare drama and a Bollywood musical.
With music by the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and memorable performances by cinema icons Shashi Kapoor and Madhur Jaffrey (who won the Silver Bear award for Best Actress at the 1965 Berlin International Film Festival), Shakespeare Wallah remains a one-of-kind gem of modern world cinema.
Both the Blu-ray and the DVD editions are supplemented with a wealth of bonus material, including a conversation with the filmmakers, featuring Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, Shashi Kapoor and Felicity Kendal; the film’s original trailer; and its 2017 rerelease trailer.