Riz Ahmed set to play modern day Hamlet in British-Indian adaptation

It’s a tough ask to step into the shoes of a Shakespearean character – that too, as complex as Hamlet. However, seems like British-Pakistani star, Riz Ahmed has geared up for the challenge! The Oscar-winning actor has been roped in to play a modern-day Hamlet, reported Variety. 

According to the publication, Ahmed will be teaming up with his The Long Goodbye co-writer and director Aneil Karia for a London-set British Indian adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The pair won the 2022 best live-action short film Oscar for their last collaboration. The Long Goodbye starred Ahmed and was helmed by Karia. 

Talking about their upcoming venture, Ahmed and Karia said, “This is a Hamlet about race, mental health and inequality, which asks if setting things right means setting fire to the old order.”

The duo added, “Our Hamlet is an outsider in a wealthy British Indian family, who starts to question his relatives’ morality and his own sanity after encountering his father’s ghost. Hamlet’s bloody quest for revenge against his father’s killer will be told with boldness and urgency that grabs hold of audiences and won’t let go.” 

Ahmed and Karia continued in a joint statement, “We want to continue what we started with The Long Goodbye, in telling a story that is both totally grounded and authentic but then pushes into action, thriller, genre, and poetry.  We’ve both felt on the outside of Shakespeare, but as South Asians also deeply connect to what these stories are about – themes like family, honor, and duty.”

The statement further read, “So, our aim is to bring Hamlet to life by setting it in our own community.  We want to crack this timeless story open for a wider audience – with a diverse cast, a contemporary London setting, and by injecting classical verse with the energy of rap, a genre which we have both worked in for years.”  

WME Independent co-heads Deborah McIntosh and Alex Walton described the project as “a version of Hamlet unlike any you’ve seen before. It will be visceral, modern, and will touch upon current themes.”

McIntosh and Walton commented, “It will be visceral, modern, and will touch upon current themes. There is no better duo than Riz and Aneil to bring this film to life with their incredible and proven storytelling abilities.”

Speaking to Deadline, “This is a film about many of the pressing issues of our time.” He further added, “It deals with race, greed, capitalism, corruption and privilege, and yet it also boils down to being a great thriller. It has elements of psychological horror and action. The script is fast-paced and kinetic, jumping from one visually rich setting to another.”

The London backdrops will range from luxurious Indian weddings to the rows of homeless tents that have become a feature of cities including London, Paris and LA.

Ahmed went on to add, “We’re going to see the many different sides to London from the elite nightlife and supercars to ornate Hindu temples and battered down funeral homes, from council estates to plush high rises. London is a city of juxtapositions and haves and have-nots.”

The plan is to begin filming after the summer. “Everyone is singularly focused on telling this story”, The Night Of star added. “It feels urgent, fresh and disruptive in the right way.”

Karia initially had some reservations about tackling Shakespeare. At school, he was made to feel like the Bard was the preserve of a certain elite. But after discussing the project with Lesslie and Ahmed, the rising filmmaker soon came round to the unique and multiple layers inherent in this version.

“This will be a pared-back version of the verse. We want to be true to the verse but to create a world, a tone and delivery that allows people to step into it. We want to break down walls for generations that have felt any barrier to entry when it comes to Shakespeare,” he told Deadline. The director went on to add, “What we became excited about was a very singular, first-person, visceral film about human fragility and sanity…it is an atmospheric thriller with both scale and intimacy.”

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