Localizing Romeo and Juliet: Ram-Leela, Female Agency and Indian Politics

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Abstract

This essay explores Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (dir. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2013), a Bollywood adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, from a local/political and female-centred angle. Bhansali’s Romeo and Juliet localizes and provincializes Romeo and Juliet by situating it in Gujarat with recognizable traditional dance numbers, and considerably mythologizes the hypotext1 by the prioritization given to festivals and the parallels between the leading pair and well-known Hindu divinities. But, localization is not exempt from problems in this film, for dance and Hindu myths are both markers of tension in modern-day India. The constant ambiguities they bring up inevitably point to the non-isomorphic flows that characterize the nation-state. This tension also finds its niche in the depiction of women in the film. Bhansali’s adaptation equally shows women that are oppressed—the girl in the item number (musical number inserted in the film) and the widows (neither finding a Shakespearean counterpart)—women that are at one and the same time oppressed and resistant (Dhankor Baa/Lady Capulet and Leela/Juliet), and some women showing signs of female agency at the end of the adaptation. National tensions find their counterpart in tensions that inform Ram-Leela as an adaptation: this is a work that is both a Shakespearean adaptation and a Bollywood film, the two forms interacting with each other in a unique combination. Ram-Leela not only provides new understandings of Romeo and Juliet and, ultimately, Shakespeare, but also of the contingencies and complexities of modern-day India.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAdaption: The Journal of Literature on Screen Studies
Early online date14 Aug 2020
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 14 Aug 2020

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