× Current About Archive Submit Editorial Board Salisbury University

From Shakespearean Comedy to Postcolonial Farce: Genre and Trope in the Indian Cinema Adaptations of The Comedy of Errors

Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors inspired multiple adaptations in the Indian cinema industry, ranging from ones that closely follow the plot of the original to those loosely based on a story of two sets of twins. The paper will analyze the first three film adaptations of the play— Manu Sen’s Bhranti Bilas in Bengali (Illusions, 1963), and Debu Sen’s Do Dooni Chaar (Two and Two Make Four, 1968) and Gulzar’s Angoor (Grapes, 1982) in Hindi. The first of these, Bhranti Bilas is the oldest and most closely derived from an 1869 Bengali translation of the play by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a social reformer greatly influenced by English literature and culture. It was received so well that soon a Hindi adaptation was made on the same lines in 1968 to make it linguistically accessible to more people, and again in 1982 with minor modifications to make it suitable to the changing tastes of the audience. In this paper, I will assess how the generic characteristics of farce such as the presence of tropes like twinning and confusion of identities are foregrounded in these adaptations over the contextual specificities of Shakespeare’s play— a detail that contributes to its sustained popularity with cinema producers and the Indian audience alike.

I will contextualize my argument with an outline of how these films overcame the specific challenges of adapting Shakespeare in India. On the one hand, making an Indianized Shakespeare adaptation entailed the risks of alienating Indian viewers as the bard’s influence in India has been rather unreliable for a profitable production1. On the other hand, the Indian cinema industry has successfully relied on the promise of known and expected farcical tropes, relocation and recontextualization of the original text, and de-racialization of Shakespeare to create a syncretic and indigenous version of Shakespeare. This syncretic “Shakespeare” is quite distinct from the canonical British writer bequeathed to India. Following Jessica Milner Davis’ definition of farce, I will examine three farcical tropes that were re-inscribed in Indian cinema adaptations with considerable alteration. I will point out how the first Indian translation of The Comedy of Errors by Vidyasagar inadvertently broadens the play’s pragmatic scope by translating farce as prahasana (Sanskrit, “broad farce” but with a socially pragmatic function). The Indianizing of farce as prahasana instates a constructive function to the genre, quite contrary to Davis’ view of the European farce that is free from any such requirement. At the same time, these Indian adaptations also demonstrate how specific tropes such as “twinning” and “mistaken identities” can persist figuratively in multiple adaptations despite the alteration in genre.

The lure of an entertaining genre was at least as important to the public as the influence of the author in case of adapted European works in India, if not more. In “Shakespeare in Bengali Literature” (1964), R. K. Dasgupta points a detail about the beginnings of English comedy on the Indian stage— that, for Gerasim Lebedev, the pioneer of foreign theatre in Bengal, a Shakespearean comedy was not his choice for inaugurating the tradition, but instead, a comedy by Richard Paul Jodrell called The Disguise (1787). Jodrell was a reputed farceur, with at least five farces published together in 1787, all of which were often performed in small gatherings, and generally well received among inhabitants of the English countryside. Dasgupta explains that Lebedev had a justification for this seemingly curious decision:

He thought 'Indians preferred mimicry and drollery to solid commonsense'. A Bengali version of The Tempest would not have been a box office success [until] the foundation of the Hindu College in 1817. (Dasgupta 19)

But the scenario inside the Indian theatre was about to change drastically between 1817, the year of founding the Hindu College, and 1835, when Macaulay famously published his “Minute upon English Education” urging the need to Anglicize Indians thoroughly by educating them in the English language, literature, and culture2. Western literary knowledge was considered “universal, transhistorical and rational” (Singh 449). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar contributed to this enthusiasm by publishing in 1876 the first prose translation of The Comedy of Errors (henceforth, COE), entitled Bhranti Bilash, which included an “Advertisement” addressed to his readers (Vidyasagar 5-7). This was, in fact, the same prose translation on which the eponymous Bengali film of 1963 was based. Vidyasagar’s advertisement was unusual, as it stated that the play is not a great comedy but is comical and evokes a full-bellied laugh. Tied to this problematic but commonplace dismissal of farce as an inferior comic genre, is also the low expectation he sets for his Indian readers. His readers who obviously could not read English, could not be entrusted by him to enjoy a “higher” comedy of Shakespeare, and hence, had to be gratified with the translation of a farce such as COE. 

As evident from the challenge Vidyasagar perceives despite being an Indian himself —of Shakespeare not appealing to the culturally-distant audience of India— Shakespeare adaptation in India has been historically complicated by its demographic heterogeneity. Local contexts, class and caste stratifications, and attitudes towards Western education are only some of the factors that determined whether, and to what extent, the hegemony of Shakespeare could penetrate the Indian subcontinent. Rajiva Verma analyzes the complexity of reading the actual reach of Shakespeare as a cultural icon in Indian cinema, for the works of the bard are often blithely “exploited as a resource” while the audience remains largely unaware of the source of the resources (Verma 241). Without getting into the details of these complications in the scope of this paper, I will refer to Nandi Bhatia’s article which suggests how multiple meanings became attached to the word “Shakespeare” in India. Her article is notably titled bearing Shakespeare within quotes— ““Shakespeare” and the Codes of Empire in India”— to signify the multiplicity imparted to the name:

[…] the "singularity" imparted to Shakespeare through claims about "universality" and "timeless transcendentalism" was disrupted by multiple reconstructions and local appropriations of "Shakespeare" which made the iconic status of the bard's authority a contested one and imparted new meanings and experiences to Shakespeare. (Bhatia 97)

The three earliest films based on COE‒ Bhranti Bilas (1963), Do Dooni Chaar (1968), and Angoor (1982) exemplify Bhatia’s point. Keeping the plot fairly like the COE, the filmmakers transmute the setting from Syracuse and Ephesus to Indian small towns. They make alterations to the characters’ attires, behavior, and occupations to ensure that the Indian public can relate to them. In a move remarkably like Vidyasagar’s “Advertisement” to his prose translation of COE, the filmmakers in each case focus on assuring the audience that the film will definitely make them laugh. The comic expectations are explicitly divulged through posters and opening sequences rather than kept secret. Mishaps arising from tropes —like delayed recognition, mistaken identities, possibilities of swapping sexual partners, and circumlocutory wanderings— bring back the audience again and again to relish “twinning” or the typical confusions associated with being twins, even as locations, contexts, and characters change.

The posters of the movies are most significant in this respect. The poster of Bhranti Bilas showcases the befuddled expressions of the actors Uttam Kumar and Bhanu Bandyopadhyay playing the roles of the pairs of masters and servants respectively insinuating the movie’s humor drawn from confusion and chaotic misunderstandings. Do Dooni Chaar uses stills of the actors for each master-servant pair, Kishore Kumar and Asit Sen, along parallel vertical divisions, to accentuate their identicalness and the peculiarity of twinning (see Figure 1). Angoor’s poster is the most striking for being emphatic of the trope of twinning. The title obviously relates the alikeness of twins to the alikeness of grapes, providing the audience a clear premise for the plot. The poster also reemphasizes the alikeness through the heads of the lead actors Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma literally popping out of grapes. From each grape pops out one pair of look-alikes, indicating not too subtly, that they are monozygotic twins. In a small, easy to miss typeset in the loop of the “g” of Angoor is mentioned “Comedy of Twins.” Gulzar’s oblique reference to the Shakespearean play’s title in the poster looks almost slipshod and perfunctory, clearly not intended to attract the bard’s fans.

From Shakespearean Comedy to Postcolonial Farce: Genre and Trope in the Indian Cinema Adaptations of The Comedy of Errors
Ashmita Mukherjee, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 1: First expository scene of Do Dooni Char, bringing all the characters together.

Angoor begins with a photo of a distinctly brown-skinned actor dressed as Shakespeare as a moving photo, which later winks at the audience just before the end credits. Of this curious depiction of Shakespeare, Thea Buckley writes that “Gulzar not only elides any mention of the poet’s nationality but even represents him in live portrait form, posed by an actor of unambiguously native Indian ethnicity” (Buckley 79). By appropriating and deracializing the bard, not only does Gulzar make Shakespeare more approachable to the Indian viewers, but he also makes him one of Bollywood’s kin (see Figure 2). The point will become clear with reference to Jonathan Gil Harris’ argument that Shakespeare and the Indian film industry are, indeed, twins. He writes: 

It is less that the English introduced Indians to Shakespeare, and his mixtures. It is more that India, with its mixed genealogies, has always been Shakespearean. Indian masala and masala Shakespeare are twins. With similarly mixed parentages. (Harris 26)

In Masala Shakespeare: How a Firangi Writer Became Indian (2018), Harris metaphorically uses the word “masala” (any of the various mixtures of spices, used commonly in pan-Indian cuisine) to define this characteristic novelty of the Indian film industry: each film is a unique combination of disparate elements, but the flavor imparted by each element is distinct and recognizable. Evidently, the more recognizable and indigenously “Bollywood” the setup looks, the more likely to succeed in drawing in the audience. Harris’ observation summarily contextualizes within Indian society the multicultural and syncretic potential of “Shakespeare” of the film industry, i.e., the author, his works, his influence, and his appropriations taken together. He also establishes the appropriateness of adapting Shakespeare’s take on twins not once, but repeatedly, in Indian cinema. Between Shakespeare’s influence on the Bengali stage and the naturalization of the masala “Shakespeare” in film, the popular reception of his texts resided in the effect they produced on the audience. In the case of COE, what remained constant was what Vidyasagar had grasped while translating the work: that it was funny, hence it will certainly entertain. (Vidyasagar 6)

From Shakespearean Comedy to Postcolonial Farce: Genre and Trope in the Indian Cinema Adaptations of The Comedy of Errors
Ashmita Mukherjee, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 2: Angoor, the portrait of an Indianized "Shakespeare"

Jessica Milner Davis argues that the historical use of farces as “filler” or “stuffing” in between larger didactic plays denotes the genre’s functional connection with pure entertainment, in fact providing relief from the serious. She locates the roots of “farce” in the Latin word farcire, “to stuff,” the traces of which have also remained in an old-fashioned name for meat stuffing in French and English (Davis 74). The convention of providing comic relief through altered forms of known incidents or “troping” (from the Greek τρόπος (tropos), "a turn, a change") in the origins of farce makes a clear allusion to its own inherent adaptability (74). Thus, the attractiveness of farce, as Davis puts it, depends on it being partly predictable and partly surprising. She suggests that “as a genre it is especially good at setting up reliable expectations in its audience that they will be entertained and not bored” (47). Though Davis only mentions COE as a “broad comedy,” (174) the play has been historically (and often derogatorily) referred to as a farce, devoid of sustained characterization or social message3. I will consider three of Davis’ observations concerning the nature of farce to examine farcical devices in COE that have been reinscribed into the Indian cinematic context. Interestingly, these major alterations to the genre do not reduce the overall comicality of the drama. Instead, as I will explain, they indicate the figurative potential of the genre through its inherent adaptability.

The first re-inscribed farcical device is Henri Bergson’s idea of “the interference of series” (Davis 122). Drawn from the discipline of optics, this simply refers to crossing strands of narrative, of double-vision-like resemblances, consequent misunderstandings, and finally, a unified view of the picture to resolve the tension. The evidence of this device is obvious in COE‒ the twins, the parallel narratives, the evasion of actual confrontation of the two brothers until the very end, and finally the clearing of the picture. However, parallel narratives can be depicted more pronouncedly in film due to the natural advantages of the medium. For instance, Wieland Schwanebeck writes of the commendably imagined mathematical doubling of Angoor’s credit sequence (see Figures 3 and 4):

Angoor starts with simple mathematics. The credit sequence duplicates the head of its lead actor, Sanjeev Kumar, in a manner akin to cell division, and repeats the exercise several times until there are sixteen heads on the screen, which subsequently flock together like a cluster of grapes, to visualize the literal meaning of the movie title. (Schwanebeck 94)

Not only in the opening credits, the confrontation scene near the end also uses close-up shots of the actors’ bemused faces —another instance of the clear visual advantage of film in the depiction of twinning (2:10-2:11). The limitations of stage depiction of twinning is evident in an instance where an anonymous dramatic adaptation of Vidyasagar’s prose version of COE had to open with a prefatory assurance to dramatic companies that they need not worry about casting real-life twins in the play as the play does not allow the narrative lines of the two brothers to intercept (Dramatization of Bhranti Bilash 6). In this regard, the film adaptations could enhance the comedic effect of such a scene of confrontation by allowing the audience to take its time to scrutinize and verify the same-ness of the twins’ appearance. In Bhranti Bilas, the comedic effect of identical features is prolonged even after the twinning is disclosed and the resolution is complete, as the women of the new joint-family are still confused and keep mixing up their partners. The Bengali film ends in this realization that the confusion of appearance will persist and cannot be fully resolved, but none-the-less it ends on a note of cheerful acceptance of this tendency.

From Shakespearean Comedy to Postcolonial Farce: Genre and Trope in the Indian Cinema Adaptations of The Comedy of Errors
Ashmita Mukherjee, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 3: The opening credits of Angoor depict Ashok (Sanjeev Kumar) as a cluster of grapes.
From Shakespearean Comedy to Postcolonial Farce: Genre and Trope in the Indian Cinema Adaptations of The Comedy of Errors
Ashmita Mukherjee, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 4: The opening credits of Angoor makes explicit the allusion to monozygotic twins

The second re-inscribed farcical device is the use of the “talisman” or an object of value that appears at various points in the plot, often triggering the series of confusions. In COE, this is the gold chain that Antipholus of Ephesus has promised Adriana, his wife ‒ the acquisition of which becomes a comic quest. While it functions as well as expected by triggering and directing the plot, the ornament is largely shorn of its allure in the Indian adaptations. In the Indian adaptations, this trope is transmuted in a far more simplified form. There is no courtesan to claim the ornament, and by the time the confusion mounts, even the Adriana-character seems to regret having eyed the ornament before. Most notably, in Angoor, a religious, sisterly accomplice of the married twin, presumably a de-sexualized version of the courtesan, is only too pleased to console Ashok’s wife and sister-in-law, and even helps them locate the ornament she never wants anyway.

The third re-inscribed farcical device is the overall pace of the play. In various examples, Davis uses phrases like “snowball,” (4, 129) “a whirlwind of escalating sound and fury,” (7) “the pace and fury of the action,” (10) etc. to denote the narrative speed indispensable to the effect a farce produces. As the adaptations follow the plot of COE closely, the “snowball effect” is inevitable, as is the urgency arising from the need to seek a solution to the piling misidentifications. But the Indian adaptations compromise on the pace for a unique necessity: song. As Richard Allen notes, the incorporation of “the song and dance idiom of folk theatre” added to the acknowledgement and reverence of Shakespeare as a playwright of merit for his affinity to Sanskrit aesthetics, which arguably influenced all Indian dramatic forms including film (Allen 166). Thus, the Shakespearean farce was tweaked and made more promising as an Indian adaptation with the incorporation of song! In Do Dooni Char, Kishore Kumar, who plays the role of the two Sandeeps is an established playback singer by then, hence it is not surprising that he keeps to the conventions by bursting frequently into melody. These songs are intended to delineate characters and ascribe emotions to them, thus deviating significantly from the supposed detachment and apathy of farce. More significantly, these songs are, to adopt a phrase from Schwanebeck, “literal showstoppers” that prolong the time of action and amplify the romantic potential of the text (95).

These alterations to the play— such as providing opportunity for scrutiny of character and individual reactions, a general spirit of goodwill among the characters, and musical interludes‒ make it more comedic than farcical in the European sense. These changes, therefore, are not only at the level of context, but also, more radically, at the level of genre. I am not questioning here the genre of Shakespeare’s play (which was also, in fact, an adaptation of Plautus’ Manaechmi) since that is already a fraught debate (See note 3). Davis herself admits quite freely, there are indeed many examples of plays which “escape (the) bounds” of a true farce and can be categorized as closer to other dramatic genre (141). My contention is that the Indian adaptations be construed as prahasana (a pan-Indian comic genre roughly translated as farce but with a pragmatic function), and not as Shakespeare’s controversial “amalgam of farce and comedy” (Winckler 6). Reading the adaptations this way can be useful to see how the trope of identical twins could be assimilated into an existing Indian notion of comic genre.

V.V.L. Narasimha Rao defines prahasana in context of postcolonial Telegu comic literature as a “broad farce” with a purpose: “Unless it conveys a message, it cannot be called genuine prahasana (20).” This view puts into perspective how the meaning and applicability of the genre had changed from the Sanskrit prototype: “Natyadarpana states that the chief purpose of prahasana is to acquaint the common people with the ways of rogues, scoundrels, etc. and thereby make them turn away their faces from them” (Devi 4-5). Even as the Sanskrit prototype is closer in mood to the European farce, its difference is evident in the fact that the prahasana was traditionally almost exclusively meant for the uneducated “lower” classes/castes and women (and was often composed in Prakrit, not Sanskrit, as the latter was a court language) who needed to be educated through entertaining diversions. Bharata’s Natyashastra describes such a play as one in which characters of a “course” type appear, such as courtesans, servants, etc. with “immodest” dress and movements (372-373). The exaggeration of such behavior is intended to dissuade the emulation of such characters. In any case, there is a clearly educative and socially constructive motive of the prahasana, as opposed to the farce which was meant primarily as a break from educative and often religious performances. Therefore, when Vidyasagar’s “advertisement” translated farce as prahasana, it was likely understood by the readers to bear some reformatory principle within itself, as would be the convention in Indian works known to them. In this respect, it is significant that in the film adaptations, the alterations tend to pronounce more explicitly the causes responsible for the confusion, and thereby direct the characters to some form of civic, moral, or spiritual enlightenment. The characters begin to display moral goodness, express their love, overcome the urge to be promiscuous, relinquish material desires, and awaken to the illusionary nature of all reality.

An excerpt from Angoor indicates how the film explicitly proposes a skeptical approach to reality, and indirectly instils in the audience the proclivity to question their sensory perceptions (see Figure 5): 

Ashok: Sorry! (referring to the cook) I thought she was my mother.

Sudha: Cannot recognize your mother! What is to be made of this household‒ two of Bahadurs, two of this (referring to her husband), and who knows, there might be two of your mothers!


(Angoor 2:15)

If this is what the audience takes home from the prahasana they paid to watch, it fits well with the general comic schema familiar to the Indian public. When Vidyasagar translated the COE with the disclaimer that it was not Shakespeare’s most developed comedy, but a prahasana likely to bring out peals of laughter, he actually attributed more constructive function to the farcical genre than he intended. Interestingly, he also specifies his goal to be that of preetisanchar, or dissemination of agreeable joy, which sounds more akin to the effect a comedy is expected to produce (Vidyasagar 7).

From Shakespearean Comedy to Postcolonial Farce: Genre and Trope in the Indian Cinema Adaptations of The Comedy of Errors
Ashmita Mukherjee, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 5: In Angoor, Sudha (Moushumi Chatterjee) is wary of illusions in the household even after the confusion of twins is clarified.

Does this mean the transformation of so-called farcical elements to so-called comedic elements in adaptations of COE is purely a result of mistranslation? Of course, it would be disregarding COE’s innate comedic elements to simplistically consider their representation in adaptations entirely as byproducts of translation, and subsequently, of culture-driven alterations. Reto Winckler turns Ralph Berry’s assessment of COE as “an amalgam of farce and comedy” upside down by suggesting that the profundity of the text lies in its farcical element —the ability to generate skepticism— rather than its so-called “comedic elements.” The misappropriation of farcical profundity to comedy is only a result of “the old idea that farce is somehow less valuable or meaningful than comedy” (6). Moreover, Davis’ chapter “On the Borderline” observes the proximity of farces to other genre, resulting in “imperfect” farces that bear comedic, romantic, or other comic elements. She observes, “[pure] farce is comedy with self-awareness left out” (143, emphasis in the original). Curiously similar to this feature of comedies, adaptations are often self-reflexive about the concealed mechanisms of the Ur-text‒ as evident in relation to the tendency of the Indian film adaptations to elaborate through close-ups on the characters’ faces, through “speed-breaking” songs, and through direct reference to the original text. In other words, what the reflexive elements of the comedy do for the farcical elements is not too different from what the Indian film adaptations have done by exaggerating the existing seeds of comedy in Shakespeare’s text.

It is worth noting that in an overtly self-reflexive moment in Angoor, the father of both the Ashoks before they are separated, comments that “These are the twins of The Comedy of Errors, and not the twins of The Corsican Brothers (my emphasis)” (0:2:34). Thus, the twinning-consciousness explicitly binds itself into a tight unit— firmly joined to the sameness of each other, and vehemently rejecting other samenesses. At the same time, the shadow of concern on Ashok’s face when the possibility of his wife having slept with his own bachelor twin suggests the residue of individuation and ownership anxiety within twinship (2:13:28). Shwanebeck points out that the preoccupation with identity assertion and primogeniture have “haunt(ed) the topic of twinship throughout literary history” (96). This indicates how these twinning units are inextricably tied to each other through the irresolvable tensions of identicalness/distinctness, absorption/disjunction, originality/imitativeness. If COE appears as a special case of inseparable intertwining of farcical and comedic elements, the same argument can also be read as an extension of Shwanebeck’s that the text celebrates “twinship in its own right (90).” In more ways than one, the trope of twinning in COE replicates and reiterates itself generically, contextually, and textually.

An interesting illustration to elucidate the metaphoricity or figurativeness of COE’s “twinning” trope can be seen in Manu Sen’s choice of naming Chiranjib’s sister-in-law “Bilashini.” The name literally translates to “the one who is immersed,” which in conjunction with the title of the adaptation indicates it is her tale— her state of dream-like, illusionary confusion. The word Bilāś in the movie title isderived from the Sanskrit vilās may refer to the state of immersion in illusions, or the projection of māyā (phenomenal world). Thus, the term bilaś is replete with twin implications: prolongation of delusion through immersion in illusions, as well as discovering a sensory projection of the truth. Bilashini, therefore, is the one who meets the wrong twin in the melā (a fair) and takes him home for the night, perceiving him to be her brother-in-law. On the one hand, she “finds” the brother-in-law missing since the morning, while on the other, her finding only furthers his missing-ness. Chakraborty notes that the Indian mela is truly a “clichéd space in Indian cinema where characters, especially lovers or siblings, get separated or find each other” (Chakraborty 256). But more significantly, a puppet show in this mela reiterates through song and dance the ancient Indian myth of “Ahalya,” which is a cautionary tale for women: “O Woman! May you never fail to know your own husband” (0:26:47-0:27:15, my translation) (see Figure 6). The illusion in this myth refers to the incidental failure of Ahalya, a married woman, to differentiate and hence reject the god Indra who, being smitten by her beauty, had arrived to spend the night with her in the guise of her husband. Amrita Sen argues that this episode anticipates the forthcoming events of the play, the failure of a wife to distinguish between her husband and his copy (257). Sen makes a vital point about the cross-referentiality of the trope of misidentification— that Shakespearean texts and Indian mythic instances of the same trope reinstate each other. The lyrics of one of the songs of Bhranti Bilas, “a new way to dance to ancient tunes” (my translation) point at the culpability of all claims of authenticity (0:25:20-0:25:40). In any case, assigning a single perspective (Bilashini’s) to the drama of mistaken identities delimits the way in which twinning appears, as opposed to what twinning is. Bilashini represents every individual immersed in a delusion, who cannot articulate the real relation between sameness and difference.

From Shakespearean Comedy to Postcolonial Farce: Genre and Trope in the Indian Cinema Adaptations of The Comedy of Errors
Ashmita Mukherjee, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 6: The "Ahalya-episode" in Bhranti Bilas

And yet, the two brothers are related through shared history of being twins. The appearance of twinning‒ inheringthe incertitude of sameness or difference ‒cannot be resolved by the individual, since it is beyond the capacity of the human senses, as Winckler indicates through his argument on skepticism (10-12). What does bring a resolution instead is the mutual recognition of the twins themselves in a moment of confrontation. As do the twin brothers of each adaptation, the adaptations and the play COE also confront each other in the ultimate scene of witnessing a mirror-like reflection of oneself in one’s brother. This moment is that of re-cognition of the twin as one’s own, as well as the cognition of “twinning” as a phenomenon thus far not recognized by them. When the two Ashoks in Angoor do meet, the anxiety arising from the urgent need to find some way to differentiate their identities translates into an awkward exchange:

“Are you the son of Raj Tilak?” “Yes” “And your name too is Ashok?” “Yes.” “Do you have a mole on your right shoulder?” “No.” “Neither me. Hahaha.” (2:12:00-2:12:35)

This farcical trope of erroneous cognition that repeats itself in every adaptation of the COE destabilizes any premise of originality. While I began my argument with a focus on the contextual implication of adapting a Shakespearean text in a postcolonial cultural space, such an analysis would remain incomplete if the generic adaptation is not taken into consideration. It is simplistic to read Shakespeare’s purported universality as only being undermined contextually by the syncretism of the Indian subcontinent. This undermining needs to be noted as a feature intrinsic to the farcical trope of identical twins, and hence facilitated by the same. The appropriateness and the irony of employing this trope in postcolonial adaptations of Shakespeare cannot be appreciated adequately if one fails to notice the repetition implicit in Shakespeare’s own adaptation of Plautus’ play, and the simultaneous alterations he made to it, both at the level of context and at the level of genre. In other words, if Shakespeare altered Plautus’ play by recontextualizing it, he also “tempered” the Latin playwright’s genre by complicating the plot, moderating the violence of marital tensions, and characterizing the twins in more detail. The “profundity” of farce that Winckler refers to is the metaphysical value of the farcical “twinning” plot. It is “twinning” that figuratively runs through all adaptations bearing the trope of delusion, errors, and confusion ensuing from the miscognition. Likewise, the Indian adaptations that multiplied from the same source reflexively gloss over this trope, keeping with the prahasana genre which had pragmatic functions, whether expository or reformatory. I elucidate what forms the content of this reflective gloss, particularly because they become case studies of adaptation, and therefore dutifully invite the audience into the uneasy truth of failed cognition.

By reiterating its own confrontation with its (more influential?) twin-text, and by tweaking the narrative just enough to separate itself as distinct textual material, and by continually attempting to subsume the identity of the other twin ‒ these adaptations continue to assert their own identity. The many implications of the discomfortingly obsessive interest of India’s film industry with this text can be summed in Harold Bloom’s succinct observation, “Perhaps all farce is implicitly metaphysical, Shakespeare departs from Plautus in making the uneasiness overt (192)”.  So, it seems, do the Indian adaptations.


1  For detailed analysis of a film representing the divide between traditional stage productions of Shakespeare and the common masses who could not relate to them, see Parmita Dutta, “Shakespeareana to Shakespeare Wallah” in Performing Shakespeare in India: Exploring Indianness, Literatures, and Cultures. Ed. Shormishtha Panja and Babli Moitra Saraf. Sage, 2016. pp. 108-130.

2  See Gauri Vishwanathan, “The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India”, Oxford Literary Review

Vol. 9, No. 1/2, COLONIALISM & other essays (1987), pp. 2-26.

3  It has also been argued by critics that the play does have elements of pathos and romantic fantasy (for example, Ten Brink, EMW Tillyard, Charles Whitworth, Carol Neely and Martin Van Elk), quite uncharacteristic of a pure farce. See Shakespeare Through the Ages. Ed. Harold Bloom. 

Works Cited

Allen, Richard. "Comedies of Errors: Shakespeare, Indian Cinema, and the Poetics of Mistaken Identity." Dionne, Craig and Parmita Kapadia. Bollywood Shakespeares. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 165-192.

Angoor [Grapes]. Dir. Gulzar. 1982. 23 July 2021. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmehQk4HT3A>.

Bhatia, Nandi. ""Shakespeare" and the Codes of Empire in India." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, vol. 18, 1998, pp. 96-126.

Bhranti Bilas [Illusions]. Dir. Manu Sen. 1963. 23 July 2021. <https://www.bongflix.com/media/bhranti-bilash/2763/feature>.

Buckley, Thea. "Indian Shakespeare in the World Shakespeare Festival." Panja, Shormishtha and Babli Moitra Saraf. Performing Shakespeare in India: Exploring Indianness, Literatures and Cultures. Sage, 2016, pp. 77-94.

Chakraborty, Darshana. "Adaptation of Shakespeare in Bengali Theatre and Cinema." Biswal, Santosh Kumar, Krishna Sankar Kusuma and Sulagna Mohanty. Handbook of Research on Social and Cultural Dynamics in Indian Cinema. IGI Global, 2020, pp. 250-266.

Dasgupta, R.K. "Shakespeare in Bengali Literature." Indian Literature, vol. 7, no. 1, 1964, pp. 16-26.

Davis, Jessica Milner. Farce. Transaction Publishers, 2003.

Devi, Malathi. "Rasa in Prahasanas." Journal of the Oriental Research Institute and Manuscripts Library, vol. XXIII, part. 1 and 2, n.d., pp. 1-24.

Do Dooni Chaar [Two and Two Make Four]. Dir. Debu Sen. 1968.

Dramatization of Bhranti Bilash. Kolkata: Jatiya Sahitya Parishad, 1940.

Dutta, Parmita. "Shakespeareana to Shakespeare Wallah." Performing Shakespeare in India: Exploring Indianness, Literatures, and Cultures. Ed. Shormishtha Panja and Babli Moitra Saraf. Sage, 2016, pp. 108-130.

Harris, Jonathan Gil. Masala Shakespeare: How a Firangi Writer Became Indian. Aleph Book Company, 2018.

Macaulay, Thomas B. Speeches. Ed. G. M. Young. Oxford University Press, 1935.

Muni, Bharata. Natya Shastra. Trans. Manomohan Ghosh. Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1951.

Rao, V. V. L. Narasimha. Makers of Indian Literature: Chilakamarti Laxmi Narasimham. Sahitya Akademi, 1993.

Schwanebeck, Wieland. "The Twin Who Came from Abroad: The Comedy of Errors and Transcultural Adaptation." Shakespeare, vol.16, no. 1, 2020, pp. 90-99.

Sen, Amrita. "Indianising The Comedy of Errors: Bhranti Bilas and its Aftermaths." Trivedi, Poonam and Paromita Chakravarty. Shakepeare and Indian Cinemas. Routledge, 2019, pp. 251-267.

Singh, Jyotsna. "The Bard in Colonial/Postcolonial India." Theatre Journal, vol. 41, no. 4, 1989, pp. 441-458.

Verma, Rajiva. "Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema." Trivedi, Poonam and Dennis Bartholomeusz. India's Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation, and Performance. Pearson, 2005, pp. 240-259.

Vidyasagar, Ishwar Chandra. Bhrantibilas. Sangbat , 1876.

Winckler, Reto. "Profound farce: William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors as Farcical Skepticism." Cahiers Elizabethains: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies, vol. 97. no. 1, 2018, pp. 4-19.