Mark Thornton Burnett – Gendered Play and Regional Dialogue in Nanjundi Kalyana

Event Dates: 29 April 2016
Asia House
63 New Cavendish St,
London W1G 7LP

Indian Shakespeare on Screen

Professor Mark Thornton Burnett (Queen’s University Belfast) – Gendered Play and Regional Dialogue in Nanjundi Kalyana

This plenary understands the highly popular Kannada language film, Nanjundi Kalyana (dir. M. S. Rajashekar, 1989), in terms of its rewriting of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Although the play is not directly referenced as a source of inspiration, the film clearly functions as an adaptation, as witnessed in the plotline, the combative relationship between a male wooer and a resistant woman, allusions to the ‘shrew’ and scenes of taming, humiliation and domestication. Crucially, Nanjundi Kalyana places a regional gloss on its adaptive procedures, continually citing cultural practices and gendered attitudes germane to southern parts of India and to Karnataka in particular. Typical here are the Gauri Ganesha festival that commences the action, the scenes in which Devi/Katharina attends university (she is pictured as a fashionable young woman in western dress and sunglasses), and the specific deployment of mythological tropes (at one point, Devi/Katharina is imagined as a vengeful Kali). Devi/Katharina is continually mocked for her pretensions, as in the scene where she is presented with a cartoon that shows her as a ‘man-woman’; this prompts a series of counter-ripostes that establish her as a Indian embodiment of the cross-dressing Renaissance figure excoriated in in the popular Hic Mulier literary tradition. But these episodes point up not simply the vexed status of the ‘modern’ woman in Kannada language culture; they simultaneously suggest anxieties about broader social relations in a process of flux, as conjured in sequences that set against each other urban mores and rural ways. More broadly, the figure of Devi/Katharina operates, I suggest, as a cipher for some of the hopes and aspirations of a regional film industry pitted against the ‘Bollywood’ cinema machine. Frequently, Nanjundi Kalyana takes ‘Bollywood’ conventions only to subject them to inversion or scrutiny, whether this is evidenced in song-and-dance numbers or in discussions of family honour. In this connection, Shakespeare serves a key function, stressing the ways in which a classic English dramatist can be mortgaged to support the vitality and significance of southern Indian cinematic industries. Throughout, then, Nanjundi Kalyana invests in forms of gendered play as part of a regional agenda, but these do not extend to an ironizing of source, as is the case in some film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work. At the end, the spectacle of Devi/Katharina drunk, singing and visible in the public street prioritises the humiliation that prefaces her taming, while her final acceptance of Ragu/Petruchio’s house as her own sets the seal on her embrace of conservatism. The wedding serves as the counterpoint to the play’s taming in a conclusion that indexes the nurturing dimension of Kali mythology, endorses gendered contentment as a solution to professional ambition and resolves family discord in the form of marital harmony.

Introduction by Dr Preti Taneja (Warwick/QMUL):

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