Baradwaj Rangan’s FC Book Recco #1: ‘Masala Shakespeare’ by Jonathan Gil Harris, Film Companion

Written by Jonathan Gil Harris, the professor of English at Ashoka University, the book offers a definition for what we call masala to describe a certain kind of movies. From our culture, we know that masala means a sprinkling of everything. It’s the same when we talk about masala movies; the kind of movie that has a bit of every emotion. Can a masala film exist without action scenes or multiple songs?

The definition for masala the authors offers is that masala films are devoid of any purity, with a quality of more-than-oneness. He writes, “In the masala movie, there is no space for purity. Elements that are supposedly separate, and even incompatible, bed down under the same roof. So we have tragedy and comedy together, poetic language and coarse slang together, you have prim morality with unbound desire and then you also have congested Indian streets with rolling Swiss mountains. Conversational dialogues are also combined with song and dance.”

Now what does Shakespeare have to do with masala?

Shakespeare is today considered high brow. One must be extremely wise to understand his works is what is assumed. It has become an upper class form of reading and entertainment. But in Shakespeare’s time he was the masala writer of his era. The author writes, “For Shakespeare is masala is his stories, his language, his genres, audiences and techniques.”

His plays were written for the common-folk of England during the time. Harris combines Shakespeare with masala movies and that’s what makes the book fascinating.

He chooses 11 plays of Shakespeare combined with what we call masala to create a very entertaining discussion about the two worlds.

For more recco, stay tuned to Film Companion South.

Click here to buy Masala Shakespeare by Jonathan Gil Harris



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