Bollywood through a feminist lens

Review: Angoor (1982)

I love Shakespeare, and I like movie adaptations of his works, and I enjoy that Angoor doesn’t entirely trust its audience. Most movies are content to include a quick “based on.” Angoor begins with an elaborate introduction, explaining how great Shakespeare is, and explaining the basic premise. Trust the direction and editing to convey the plot. However, The Comedy of Errors isn’t the easiest story to modernize, so perhaps that led to the introduction.

Two sets of twins, one set servants to the others, are separated as children, and reunited as adults. Chaos ensues. Much of the comedy comes from their wives/love interests not recognizing the correct man, and as such, the women are often the butt of the joke. That’s a flaw with the source material. (And the work Shakespeare based his play on had even fewer women. What is better, to be the joke or to not exist?)

Angoor does have women: one of the twins, Ashok, has a wife, Sudha, sister in law, Tanu, and his servant-twin is married to a female servant, Prema Ashok and his wife fight over the attention he pays to another woman. The sister in law is perpetually annoyed.

The twins, obviously, get confused for one another, and the plot comes to a head when the wrong twins spend the night in the wrong place. The audience knows everyone’s real identity, and the joke is that the women don’t, they don’t believe the men, and they get upset when the men behave strangely. Tanu faints when she realizes what has happened, and the twins are revealed.

The jokes, then, are domestic. Ashok and Sudha already have a rocky marriage before the introduction of the second Ashok. Why not move beyond that sphere, move to the workplace or a hobby?

Or female twins?

A common defense about the lack of female characters/actors (or people of color in Western media) is that doing so wouldn’t be “realistic.” So perhaps a straight adaptation of The Comedy of Errors would fall into that category; a play written by an Englishman, set in Greece and based on a Roman play would seemingly call for more men than women. But if the story is being modernized anyway, why remain beholden to those old requirements? The movie is 30 years old, but the base plot isn’t one that requires men instead of women.

Angoor itself is an enjoyable movie and adaptation. We are left with the usual questions of representation: is it enough to be there? Should we give some leeway because of the original material (and because the film itself is now 35 years old)? What is the best way to respectfully adapt a work?

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