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Shakespeare Wallah - The Merchant Ivory Collection
Shakespeare Wallah - The Merchant Ivory Collection
Actors: Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Geoffrey Kendal, Laura Liddell, Madhur Jaffrey
Director: James Ivory
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
UR     2004     2hr 2min

Elegiac and atmospheric, Shakespeare Wallah was the feature film that put Merchant Ivory Productions on the international movie map, winning them great critical acclaim, and is now recognized as a classic. Starring Shashi ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Geoffrey Kendal, Laura Liddell, Madhur Jaffrey
Director: James Ivory
Creators: James Ivory, Subrata Mitra, Amit Bose, Ismail Merchant, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance
Studio: Merchant Ivory
Format: DVD - Black and White,Widescreen,Anamorphic
DVD Release Date: 04/27/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 2hr 2min
Screens: Black and White,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 14
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Age and Loss
blockhed | UK | 08/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The exquisite mood captured by this masterpiece is unique in my experience of motion pictures. The disc container description, partly repeated in the extra features section, is banal in the extreme, as well as laughably inaccurate. "Colonial rule" in India was not English, but British. The many Irish, Welsh and Scots who lived and died in India would hate to be called English. However, the dedicated husband and wife thespians are eccentrically English, of course. Their daughter, Lizzie, has never been outside India, and knows less of England than Sanju, the man she thinks she loves. The action is not set during the last days of the Raj. Nabokov's "Lolita", which is pointedly displayed early in the film (perhaps because it is also about the seduction of one culture by another), was first published in 1955, and Indian Independence took place in 1947. Sanju drives a white Mercedes, which I wouldn't like to date, but which is very definitely post-1955. The film was made in 1965. The rise of Bollywood must have been taking place at about this time. Much of the delicate ambience of the film is totally lost if the audience is misled into believing that India was like this before Independence. Only the ghost of the Empire lingers on in this quiet story. It is not really about a "clash" of cultures, with the violent hostility which that word implies; rather, it gently acknowledges that the old order is changing, giving place to a new. Indian potentates no longer personally strangle unwitting intruders for entering their women's quarters. At least, I don't think they do. The lives of Lizzie's parents are irrevocably inter-woven with a vanished time: they will die in India. Because Lizzie has no place in the new India, she has to be sent away to a home she doesn't know. Her Indian playboy friend cannot commit himself to marrying her. Nevertheless, the truth is that in spite of the mockery directed against the theatre of Shakespeare by a more aggressively volatile element, very many actors on the imperial stage conceived a genuine love of India, and its high and ancient civilization, and this affection could be recognized and reciprocated, and still is, in part. The love affair continues, at least at some levels. This is an infinitely more nuanced work than David Lean's rather nasty and one-dimensional interpretation of E.M.Forster's shallow novel. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote the screenplay of Shakespeare Wallah, displays a far finer spirit, greater precision and deeper humanity. Separation at any age is also a loss."
Sensitive, intelligent portrayal that rings true
Brendan Mcdonald | Federal Way, WA United States | 01/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I like to approach movies with a clean slate. I do not study my history books or movie reviews before I watch them. I depend on the movie itself to inform me, entertain me, and move me.

This movie stands out on all three fronts. Unlike many American movies that tell too much, this movie is brilliant in letting the story unfold in the gentlest, yet most emotionally charged manner. When one of the players says to Mr. Buckingham, "Sir, I have three little children. What do I tell them when I cannot send them money? Tell me what do to do, Mr. Buckingham." Those words speak of the pain of someone forced to leave a work s/he loves due to realities of daily living. One also sees the collapse of a portion of a culture due to an indifference that is inevitable yet tragic. And the final scene between Lizzie and Sanju, when Lizzie says, "I would give up anything for you. All you have to do is ask," and she is met by silence from Sanju... It speaks volumes of the experience of a young person realizing for the first time that s/he loves someone who cannot return the love in the way s/he needs it returned.

This is a very human story which also tells, not of a love/hate relationship between two cultures (British and Indian), but one of love/indifference. And sometimes that is the most powerful conflict of all."
Brave new world with such people in it
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 11/26/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Set in the culturally transformative 1960's, Shakespeare Wallah is less about the clash between two cultures than the clash between traditional culture and the modernizing influence and effects of internationalization (or globalization as it is now called) that is always occurring but that was accelerated throughout the western and eastern world in that particularly fast-moving decade.

Merchant & Ivory feel an obvious tinge of regret that the old ways are being replaced by new ways but the regret is tempered by the realization that old culture never vanishes altogether but is simply transformed under the pressures of new material conditions and social forces.

The world does not remain the same; but then it never has.

There are two social groups being studied here. There is the English family of traveling Shakespearean actors held together by national, familial and vocational bonds (as well as the shared sense of adventure of living in a foreign land). Then there is the Indian group who are held together by national, familial, and class bonds. Interestingly enough, artists and patrons of the arts communicate quite easily across national and class lines. In fact art seems to remove all barriers between peoples. Art is therefore a great ambassador; it builds understanding and respect between peoples. Art also provides a certain continuity to life for Shakespeare is relevant in all times and all places. The family of Shakepeare actors have been living in India and performing Shakespeare plays since before Indian Independence. The radical social changes of the 1960's do not make Shakespeare irrelevent but the availability of new media like film make live theatre seem like a thing of the past. Obviously Merchant and Ivory are lovers of literature AND they are filmakers so they are perhaps in a very unique position to appreciate both the old social realities and practices and the new social realities and practices; as well they are in a unique position to take a reading of what is being lost as old social realities and practices are replaced by new social realities and practices.

The beauty of the film and the beauty of many Merchant/Ivory films old and new is in their precise evocation of a time and place and a way of life. But even more than that their films are attractive because there is a largeness of spirit in their films that embraces life as it is. They find beauty in traditional cultures and peoples but they also find beauty in those who embrace new identities and they find beauty in those people who do not know exactly where they belong in the world. In this film there are many things that unite and divide people. Among the Indian population there are devotees of old Indian ways and morals and expectations and there are devotees to contemporary ways and morals and expectations. And there are some like "Sanjo" played by Shashi Kapoor who do not know exactly where to locate themselves along the cultural divide. For much of his youth Sanjo thinks that he is dedicated to the new but when he least expects it he surprises himself with the acknowledgment that he is perhaps more attached to the old ways than he thought. Merchant and Ivory are brilliant at capturing these moments of self-definition. Among the English population there are those who embrace a life of adventure and those who long for a more settled life. Interestingly enough its the older generation who embrace adventure and the younger generation who long for a more settled life.

Merchant and Ivory have a very intimate & elegant way of telling very literary stories in a cinematic way; in this way they can be seen to be bridging the gap between the old and the new. Looking at their films is like looking at history through the eyes of a literary and a cinematic artist because they are always looking back and forward at the same time. Their images (like the image of two elegantly attired artistes riding a bicycle that begins the film) are full of nostalgia for a lost time and era but also full of the spontaneity and possibility of a new time and era. In the same way the ending of the film is full of longing and regret for one set of vanished possibilites but it is also full of the promise that a brave new world (and another faraway country) still might hold.

Early Merchant/Ivory Movie Magic
My life is a movie | Atlanta, Georgia United States | 04/01/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I ran across this gem on Netflix. I love Shakespeare, Indian culture, and Merchant/Ivory films so even though it had low rating from viewers I decided to give it a chance. My expectations weren't very high, figured on mild entertainment at best. And when it started and I saw it was in black and white they (my expectations) sunk even lower. Don't get me wrong, I love glorious black & white, some of my best movies are in it (maybe even the majority). But this was a Merchant/Ivory film, and I'm used to seeing their films bathed in wonderful lighting, meticulous, rich sets and period costumes, etc. As the story unfolded, however, I was completely caught up and blown away, in a very gentle, subtle way. I won't go into any details, some others already have. I just wanted to drop a line and say if you ever get the chance, please take the time and watch this film. You won't regret it. I only wish there was a more affordable copy available to buy and add to my library. Then again, I think it would be well worth $40 for early Merchant/Ivory movie magic."