Nobility, Interrupted: The Queer Poetics of Vandana Kataria’s Noblemen
Keywords:India, Global Shakespeare, Adaptation, Merchant of Venice, Vandana Kataria, Noblemen, Noble, Indian Shakespeare
This paper explores the role of noble kinship in Noblemen, Vandana Kataria’s adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Noblemen is a 2019 Indian independent film written during the apex of gay decriminalization discourse in India. While Bollywood adaptations of Shakespeare have been well studied, independent films such as Noblemen that “speak back” to mainstream regimes of cinema and culture demand more attention. The film transforms the Christian Venetian setting of Shakespeare’s play to that of an all-boys boarding school in India dubbed “Mount Noble High.” I argue that the film depicts male dominated kinship networks that oppress queer difference to emphasize how mainstream kinship perpetuates and reinforces an oppressive and monolithic “imagined community.” Kataria transplants the oppressive kinship apparent in The Merchant of Venice to Noblemen’s Noble High to emphasize how kinship networks’ discrimination, particularly homophobia, results in an imagined community bonded by corrupt nobility and erasure of marginalized identity. Such kinship networks force Shay, Kataria’s Shylock, to renounce his queer identity and convert to a position of subordination. Shay is only able to escape this subordination and exact revenge against the bullies by enacting the lawful role of Portia. This victory, however, fails to restore his nobility as it further ingratiates him in societal structures that reinforce oppression and heteronormativity. By showing how mainstream noble kinship is built upon a foundation of oppression rather than virtue, Kataria encourages audiences to question the virtue of laws, societal practices, and Bollywood films that reinforce imagined community by marginalizing queerness.