Director James Ivory’s film Shakespeare Wallah (1965) will be screened next month in New York, in a brand new 2K scan and restoration from the original camera negative and magnetic soundtrack, and featuring a new 5.1 audio mix from the stereo 35mm mags.
Shakespeare Wallah is part of the Cohen Film Collection, which has acquired a 30-film library of movies directed and produced by the James Ivory-Ismail Merchant filmmaking team.
Elegiac and atmospheric, Shakespeare Wallah was the feature film that really put Merchant Ivory Productions on the international movie map, winning them great critical acclaim and now recognized as a classic.
Starring Shashi Kapoor, Madhur Jaffrey, and a young Felicity Kendal, the film’s inspiration lies in the real-life adventures of Kendal’s family as a traveling theater group in India during the final days of English colonial rule.
The ‘Buckingham Players’ try to uphold British tradition by staging Shakespeare plays for the general public, boarding schools, and local royalty, but are unable to compete with the wildly popular Bollywood film industry. Through their travels, we see the changing face of India as the old is replaced by the new.
The film also traces the developing relationship between the acting troupe’s young ingénue, Lizzie (Kendal), and Sanju (Kapoor), a wealthy Indian playboy. But their romance is beset by hindrances, not the least being the machinations of Manjula (Jaffrey), a fiery Indian film star who is also in love with Sanju.
In the 1940’s & 1950’s, Geoffrey Kendall, his wife, Laura Lidell, their daughters Jennifer and Felicity, and their traveling theatre troupe, Shakespeareana, travelled around the towns and villages of India giving performances of Shakespeare plays from shabby village halls to opulent maharajas’ palaces, often joined by a variety of young local actors who later earned international cinematic acclaim.
While mostly Shakespearean plays, there were also those of Sheridan, Shaw and Wilde. Kendal was publicly anointed “Shakespeare Wallah” after the 1965 Merchant Ivory film of the same name. In the film – which also featured his wife, daughters and son-in-law, (Shashi Kapoor) – three members of an English theatrical family “play” themselves.
Part of Cohen Media Group, the Cohen Film Collection was created in 2011 by Charles S. Cohen, upon acquiring the Rohauer Library collection of hundreds of rare and classic movies, spanning from the silent film era to present day. Cohen has added movies to the Collection, including classic British and French films from filmmakers such as Ken Loach, Claude Chabrol, Patrice Chereau, Maurice Pilat and Merchant/Ivory. The Collection’s holdings are being restoredfor the theatrical and home markets.
Shakespeare Wallah will open at the Quad Cinemas in New York on November 10.