The East, especially the Indian film industry, drawing inspiration from the West is not a new thing. So, it is not entirely a surprise that the Hindi Theatre has time and again, borrowed ideas from none other than the Bard, William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare has not been around for more than 450 years and yet, his plays are performed across the world in multiple languages. Hindi theatre is no exception. A survey conducted by the Indian National Library of Calcutta in 1964 shows numbers that prove that Shakespeare’s presence was felt across the length and breadth of India even back then – 66 Kannada plays, 70 in Hindi, 97 in Marathi and 128 in Bengali. Such was the popularity of Shakespeare’s plays.
Hindi drama was established by Bhartendu Harishchandra as a reaction to the Parsi theatre. Referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Hindi Theatre’, Harishchandra was a prolific translator and has translated Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice as Durlabh Bandhu (1880). Though no changes were made to the original plot, the characters’ names and the dialogues were Indianized.
You can classify Shakespeare’s plays Hindi translations into two broad categories, the first one being prose narratives and the second one being ‘faithful’ translations. Prose narratives are stories written in ordinary language which served a simple of introducing Hindi readers to William Shakespeare’s plays. On the other hand, ‘faithful’ translations refer to translating the intended communication in another language with as much accuracy as possible. Lala Sitaram was yet another creative translator who went on to translate 15 of Shakespeare’s plays. His translations include Apni Apni Ruchi (As You Like It), The Tempest (Jangal Mein Mangal), Prem Kasauti (Romeo Juliet) and Man Mohan Ka Jaal (Much Ado About Nothing) among others.
Over the years, there have been countless playwrights who have adapted and translated Shakespeare’s plays owing to their universality.