In the words of director James Ivory, “wallah” is a Hindi term that means someone who is identified with something specific: a tradesman, a salesman, an expert or practitioner. And in one sense, the travelling theatrical troupe of Shakespeare Wallah (1965) is peddling Shakespeare, village-to-village if not quite door-to-door, in post-colonial India. James Ivory’s 1965 film, his second feature, is directly inspired by (if not quite based on) the diaries kept by actor Geoffrey Kendal of the experiences of the Shakespeariana theater company, a traveling troupe of English, Irish and Indian actors led by the British born Kendal and his wife, Laura Liddell, during 1947, the year India achieved independence.
Ivory met the Kendal family when he was making The Householder (1963) and was determined to make a film with them. When he read Geoffrey’s diaries, he found his project, casting Geoffrey Kendal as troupe leader and director Tony Buckingham and Laura Liddell as his wife, actress and partner Carla Buckingham. They are fictionalized versions of themselves: British stage performers who have made a life for themselves and their family in India, which they now think of as home. Certainly their daughter, Lizzie (Felicity Kendal in her film debut), does; she was born in India and grew up in the company, graduating from stage assistant to supporting actress and the occasional leading role in the troupe’s repertoire of Shakespeare plays. These they would stage anywhere from outdoor parks to school auditoriums to private manors and palaces, wherever Tony can book their next engagement.
Plays on Turner Classic movies on Thursday, September 1