V. Sambasivan’s populist Othello for Kerala’s kathaprasangam | Intellect Skip to content
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Indian Othellos: Shakespeare Adaptations in India
  • ISSN: 2059-0660
  • E-ISSN: 2059-0679

Abstract

Through the verve and beauty of V. Sambasivan’s (1929–97) recitals for Kerala’s temple art form, performed solo onstage to harmonium accompaniment, Shakespeare’s has become a lasting part of cultural memory. The veteran storyteller’s energetic Malayalam-language lingers in a YouTube recording, an hour-long musical narrative that sticks faithfully to the bones of Shakespeare’s tragedy while fleshing it out with colourful colloquial songs, verse, dialogue and commentary. Sambasivan consciously indigenized Shakespeare, lending local appeal through familiar stock characters and poetic metaphor. Othello’s ‘moonless night’ or ‘amavasi’ is made bright by Desdemona’s ‘full moon’ or ‘purnima’; Cassio’s lover Bianca is renamed Vasavadatta, after poet Kumaran Asan’s lovelorn courtesan-heroine. Crucially, Sambasivan’s populist introduction of through marks a progressive phase where Marxism, rather than colonialism, facilitated India’s assimilation of Shakespeare. As part of Kerala’s communist anti-caste movement and mass literacy drive, Sambasivan used the devotional art form to adapt secular world classics into Malayalam, presenting these before thousands of people at venues both sacred and secular. In this article, I interview his son Professor Vasanthakumar Sambasivan, who carries on the family tradition, as he recalls how his father’s adaptation represents both an artistic and sociopolitical intervention, via Shakespeare.

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2021-08-01
2024-04-21
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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): kathaprasangam; Kerala; Malayalam; Marxism; Othello; Shakespeare
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