Shakespeare Wallah (1965)




Director:  James Ivory. 

Starring:  Shashi Kapoor (Sanju), Felicity Kendal (Lizzie Buckingham), Geoffrey Kendal (Mr. Tony Buckingham), Laura Liddell (Mrs. Carla Buckingham), Madhur Jaffrey (Manjula), Utpal Dutt (Maharaja), Praveen Paul (Didi), Prayag Raj (Sharmaji), Pinchoo Kapoor (Guptaji), Jim D. Tytler (Bobby), Hamid Sayani (Headmaster's Brother), Marcus Murch (Dandy in 'The Critic'), Pratap Sharma (Aslam).

a fast fading family acting troupe reflects the loss of British influence in India


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

A family troupe of actors arrives at the palace of the Maharaja.  The troupe consists of Tony Buckingham and his wife Carla Buckingham and their young daughter Lizzie Buckingham, along with some Indian performers.  Someone tells His Highness that the guests have arrived.  His Higness tells the troupe that half of his palace has been turned into offices.  He has decided to convert some of his palaces into hotels. 

A local playboy Sanju takes an immediate interest in the troupe for he loves Shakespeare.  After the performance he tells Mr. Buckingham that he really enjoyed the performance.  One of the cars of the troupe breaks down.  Not really seeing who they were, the playboy and his little gang breeze past the stranded motorists.  But he recognized the pretty Lizzie Buckingham and has his driver turn around to help them.  They fix the car and then take them to Sanju's uncle's house.  Sanju tells Lizzie that he had been out hunting tigers on his uncle's property.  For the night the troupe has to make do by sleeping on beds with mosquito nets outside on the lawn.  The troupe agrees to the accommodations. 

Sanju tells asks Lizzie if she likes acting.  She tells him that it is the only life she has ever known.  She, an English woman, has never been to England.  She was even born in India. 

The troupe moves on.  They arrive in the rain at Gleneagle.  There they learn that they cannot give as many performances as in previous years because the audiences for Shakespeare are not as big as they were when the British ruled India.  Another reason for the smaller audiences is that there are now more activities available that compete with Shakespeare. 

Sanju shows up at Gleneagle.  He immediately gravitates to Lizzie.  He tells her that they are making an Indian movie.  He later watches his one-time Indian girlfriend, the actress Manjula, doing her performance.  Manjula quickly tiers and quits the production early.  Sanju is not happy that she left early, but Manjula is a very spoiled actress. 

Sanju goes to see Lizzie again.  He later watches their production of Shakespeare's Hamlet.  When the performance ends, he returns to his sleeping quarters.  He sees Manjula who asks him why is he coming back so late at night.  He tells her, but she is not happy with the answer. 

One of the Indian troupe members complains to Mr. Buckingham that he has not been paid for awhile.  Buckingham explains that they are not putting on as many performances as earlier and they are in a little financial difficulty.  He tells his employee that he will get him some money and the man goes away pleased. Buckingham later tells his wife:  "Everything has changed.  We should have gone home in 1947".   The female English owner of the Gleneagle tells the Buckinghams:  "It's not like in the old days".  She is even considering selling Gleneagle.  She adds that the Indians are not so interested in Shakespeare nowadays.  The male owner of the Gleneagle tells Lizzie:  "You shouldn't be here. . . . There's nothing left for us here."

Lizzie comes to see Sanju who is playing and singing ballads.  They then go for a walk.  Sanju tells her that he wants to make a movie about rhythm and music.  They kiss.  Manjula's servant tells her that she saw Sanju kissing Lizzie.  Manjula has her servant fetch Lizzie to her room.  She brags to Lizzie that she has six fan clubs and gets 50 or so fan letters every day.   She sizes Lizzie up and tells her that she has known Sanju for a very, very long time.  Sanju arrives and Lizzie leaves.  Lizzie is definitely jealous and mad because of it. 

The troupe moves on.  Sanju follows after them.  He asks the still annoyed Lizzie to take a drive with him in his fancy car.  He explains to her that Manjula is only a cousin of his. 

One of the troupe, Bobby, dies and they have a funeral for him. 

Manjula also shows up in town.  She explains to Sanju that she was tired and left the film shooting.   Sanju calls her a "stupid and vicious woman" because she criticized Lizzie.

Lizzie says that she wants to live in India.  But her mother wants her to go to England for her studies.  Mother says it's because of that boy, isn't it.  She asks:  "You wouldn't marry him, would you"?

At the evening performance, Manjula deliberately disturbs the performance with her incessant talking and the signing of autographs.  Sanju is mad at her, but she brushes him off saying that after all she is a star.  What does he expect?  Then she leaves the performance early, which is considered an insult to the actors.  Later Sanju apologizes for the disturbances to Mr. Buckingham.  Buckingham says it's inevitable; the victory of film over theatre.  

Sanju apologizes to Lizzie.  Lizzie tells him for the first time that she loves him.  They kiss again.  They are disturbed by Lizzie's omther.  She scolds Sanju for keeping Lizzie from her important workm which maddens both Lizzie and Sanju.  At the next performance the actors are actually heckled.  Sanju is so upset with the hecklers that he attacks them.  This causes an even bigger disturbance and many of the audience members leave the theatre.  When Sanju and Lizzie meet again, his face is badly bruised.  Lizzie tells him:  "I would give up the theatre.  You only have to ask".

In the next scene Lizzie is on a huge ocean liner.  She is sailing to England to attend school.  Her father and mother see her off on her voyage.  Lizzie has a sudden flashback of Sanju.  She does not look all that happy. 


The movie was a little slow-moving.  My wife did not like it.  I think it's o.k.  The acting troupe symbolizes British influence after independence.  The audience for the play of Shakespeare is steadily declining just like overall British influence.  Toward the end the troupe was even being heckled, something that probably would not have been tolerated in the days of British rule.  Another sign of the decline of the old English order is the love affair between Lizzie and the playboy Sanju.  In the movie Heat and Dust set in colonial India, the British and Indians both agreed that it was improper for an English woman to go with an Indian. But Lizze and Sanju defied the little resistance at least long enough to have an affair before she went to England. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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