The Books The Films and All That Jazz
With Fitoor- Abhishek Kapoor’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations starring Tabu, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in lead roles having released earlier this month, there was an instant urge to revisit the long-standing relationship of books and films. I am writing this piece in first person to share my personal experiences as books and films are two things that I am intensely passionate about. Movies have been made from books from time immemorial be it faithful on-screen projections or adaptations and have gathered curious audiences. A simple perusal of the classic sleuths-be it Sherlock Holmes, Feluda or Byomkesh Bakshi- and the movies that continue to be made on them, till this day elucidate the fact that books and movies are a match made in heaven.
It creates a win-win match for both art forms whether in terms of a guaranteed audience pool or in terms of a renewed interest in the book and often in other works of the author. All in all, the movie version of a book-be it a bestseller or a classic- seems to be a winner at the box office. Yet, the purist in me is aghast at the sheer liberties that the film-makers often take. They make gross changes or split the pen-ultimate book into two parts in the case of bestselling series- all in the name of ‘more’ entertainment value. A particular sore point for me is when the film cover is transposed onto the book in the run-up to the movie release and in subsequent editions thereafter.
I have tried to document my experiences in terms of two dynamics- A) when I watched the film after reading the book and B) when I read the book after watching the film.
When I watched the film after reading the book :
Pride and Prejudice: It carries the adage of being the first classic I read- a much-thumbed through copy of my mother’s. It bowled me over with its opening line-“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in need of a wife.” This masterpiece is a lively comedy of manners set in early nineteenth century England and narrates the tale of the Bennet sisters and their quest of finding a life partner often botched up by their mother, Mrs. Bennet’s ambitions and their own prejudices especially Elizabeth Bennet, the feisty and engaging protagonist. The novel also boasts of a colourful and well-fleshed out cast of characters. The Mr. Darcy- Elizabeth Bennet love story touched me and I, too, was afflicted with the infatuation for Mr. Darcy that afflicts millions. The timeless appeal of Austen’s classic has ensured innumerable film creations- be it faithful to the text or contemporary in treatment. My favourite among them is Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice- a poetic adaptation of Austen’s novel which despite certain cinematic liberties captures the essence of her tale and features standout performances by Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfadyen. The highly-publicised Aishwarya Rai-starrer Bride and Prejudice was an amateurish and highly cliché-driven (vis-à-vis the depiction of India) and is a one-time watch, at best.
Memoirs of a Geisha: A serendipitous read, this book by American author Arthur Golden became an instant favourite of mine with its sensitive handling of a carefully guarded world. A historical novel set in 20th century Japan including the World War II years, this book is a peek into the secret world of the geishas and their trials and tribulations. Told in first person albeit fictionalised, Sayuri at an advanced stage narrates her life story from her suite in the Waldorf Towers in New York City- of young Chiyo Sakamoto sold to an okiya and her eventful journey to becoming Nitta Sayuri in one of the most popular geishas in Gion, a geisha district in Kyoto. Memoirs of a Geisha was made into a film bearing the same name by Rob Marshall with Zhang Ziyi and Ken Watanabe in lead roles and is a testament to the phrase ‘poetry in motion’. Indeed, every frame of the movie does justice to Sayuri’s life story. It remains one of the few movies that does full justice to the book and remains true to the essence of its written predecessor.
The Harry Potter Series and The Hunger Games Series: These two series have been clubbed together deliberately. J.K Rowling and Suzanne Collins with their respective bildungsroman (a story of young people growing up)- the former belonging to the realm of fantasy fiction and the latter of dystopian fiction- have been integral parts of my growing up years and are standout works that will forever appeal to me. I could wax eloquent on the profound effect these two series had on me- Harry Potter and co. being my constant companions through childhood and The Hunger Games saga being an insightful look into a dystopian reality in my later teens. These books were not mere books; I became one with them and gleaned several life lessons from their pages. Yet, somehow the movie versions did not cut much ice with me. I have watched them, yet I have never felt the intimate connect that I have always felt with the books. Guaranteed, the movies were fairly well-made with an eclectic cast and crew and have become billion-dollar enterprises, however, the ardent bibliophile in me would always prefer the books to the movie versions, any day.
Chetan Bhagat’s novels: Chetan Bhagat is not a gifted writer but is, arguably, one of the smartest writers around. His books are almost ready-made scripts, crying out to be adapted for the silver screen be it Five Point Someone, One Night @ the Call Centre, The 3 Mistakes of My Life, 2 States. Barring the disastrously made Hello, based on One Night @ the Call Centre, all the movie versions far exceed Bhagat’s novels- be it 3 Idiots (directed by Rajkumar Hirani and based on Five Point Someone), Kai Po Che! (directed by Abhishek Kapoor and based on 3 Mistakes of my Life) and 2 States (directed by Abhishek Verman and based on 2 States). My pick of the lot? 3 Idiots! Rajkumar Hirani’s take on the Chetan Bhagat's novel, which added new dimensions and layers to the source text and presented a timeless movie which postulated on exploring what one really wants as opposed to following the diktats of the rat race. The movie featured stellar performances led by Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor and Boman Irani as well as generous doses of the Raju Hirani brand of humour. With his latest novel, Half Girlfriend, being picked up for a movie adaptation to be directed by Mohit Suri, it reinforces my contention that Bhagat writes his books only to make films out of them.
Rajneeti: Bring together The Mahabharata and The Godfather and centring it on the ruthless power games of Indian politics is a tall order. But director Prakash Jha pulls it off with elan in Rajneeti. A gripping narrative with well-fleshed out characters, each with their own complexities, unearths the dirty business of Indian politics, aided by stellar performances from Ranbir Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgan, Manoj Bajpayee among others and provides a fresh insight into the two much-loved books. The sheer brilliance of this movie marked a successful marriage of the book and the film and was a box-office winner, widely appreciated by audiences and critics alike.
Lootera: Vikramaditya Motwane’s nuanced movie traces the love story of Varun Shrivastav (Ranveer Singh) and Pakhi Roy Chaudhary (Sonakshi Sinha) in its the initial happy, throes and at a turbulent phase in their later lives when their paths accidentally cross and thereby puts forth a stirring tale of passion, betrayal and love. The movie’s climax takes its inspiration from O. Henry’s short story, The Last Leaf and Motwane uses the trope with utmost sensitivity to bring his movie to a close that is sure to bring a lump in one’s throat.
When I read the book after watching the film.
The Apu Trilogy: My introduction to the Satyajit Ray School of film-making has been rather late and this trilogy marks my first foray into the fascinating world of Ray. Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s works- Pather Panchali and Aparajito - are fascinating pieces dealing with the life and times of young Apu, tracing his trials and triumphs from childhood to parenthood. Ray splits the two books into three parts and creates his spellbinding trilogy- Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar. After watching the trilogy, I read the books and was mesmerised by Bandopadhyay’s dexterity and appreciated Ray’s genius in fidelity to the text and creating magic on celluloid.
Charulata: There are times that make me appreciate my amazing department of Comparative Literature all the more and my Charulata experience has been just that as part of the course, I had to familiarise myself with Rabindranath Tagore’s novella, Nashtanir and Satyajit Ray’s Charulata. Exploring the forbidden relationship of a bored housewife, Charulata and her charismatic brother-in-law, Amal, Ray. Charulata held me spellbound as did the source text, Tagore’s Nashtanir. With his characteristic flair, Ray shifts the focus to Charulata, choosing to tell the story from her perspective in contrast to a more balanced perspective in Tagore’s novella.The beautiful seven-minute opening shot and the ambiguous closing shot pay credence to Ray’s brilliance. Only a person of the calibre of Ray could shift focus to one protagonist yet stay true to the essence of the novella.
The Help: With an intriguing storyline, a stellar cast with Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone in lead roles and numerous Academy Award wins, this Tate Taylor movie was a must-see for me. The movie set in Jackson, Mississppi of the early 1960s, focuses on the conflict of ideas and the prejudices that white people of Jackson , led by Hilly Holbrook have towards their coloured household help. Focussing on three spirited women, the stoic and compassionate household help, Aibileen Clark; the spunky household help Minny Jackson and the white college graduate and aspiring writer, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, the movie deals with events which lead to writing of a book by Skeeter narrating the experiences of the coloured help in the white families in the area and the aftermath which changes the lives of all concerned. The lines “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” touched my heart and has been my cover picture on Facebook for quite some time. The movie got me hooked to the book by Kathryn Stockett which is more nuanced in its diary format alternating through the accounts of the three spirited protagonists- Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter - and is a keepsake for all book lovers.
The Devil Wears Prada: Two of my favourite Hollywood actors- Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway-were reason enough for me to watch this movie. The cutting-edge Runway magazine, its tyrannical boss, Miranda Priestly, Andrea Sachs’ demanding job as her assistant and a colourful cast of characters made for a delightful ring-side view of the New York fashion scene and is as fondly remembered for its dialogues as for its fashion. After coming to know the movie was based on a book written by Lauren Weisberger, I sat down to read it very enthusiastically. However, the lack of clarity and sloppy approach disappointed me and I gave up the task even before a hundred pages. This marks one of those instances where the movie far exceeds its source text.
The Mistress of Spices: On a lazy afternoon, I chanced upon this movie starring Aishwarya Rai and was baffled at some inconsistencies. Curiosity got the better of me and I read up its source text, Chitra Banerjee Divakurni’s tale of magic realism.The book, interestingly ascribed with Indian spice names for chapter headings, is a riveting account of the plights that Indian immigrants face in the United States and how the protagonist, Tilo, provides them with coping mechanism with her ‘magical’ spices. The book, in turn, has made me reflect that a bestselling novel does not necessarily make a successful movie; the movie has to imbibe the essence of its source text to justify itself.
Vishal Bharadwaj’s Bard trilogy: Vishal Bharadwaj’s penchant for creating magic on celluloid is old news. His appropriation of William Shakespeare’s tragedies and making contemporary adaptations of them be it Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkara (based on Othello)or Haider (based on Hamlet) are all masterpieces in their own right with ample support from their respective leads. Omkara marked my first foray into the Bharadwaj School and my subsequent reading of Othello helped me appreciate the creator and its adaptor all the more. I followed the same principle with Maqbool- Macbeth and Haider- Hamlet and it truly made for an enriching experience.
Love it or hate it, applaud it or bemoan it, there is no ignoring the fact that books will continue to be written and movies-whether or not true to the work or adaptations – will continue to be made and this is a marriage that isn’t breaking up anytime soon. Abhishek Kapoor’s contemporary, albeit ho-hum take on Dickens’ Great Expectations-Fitoor, is just another attempt and there will be umpteen more to come- to exasperate us or to enthral us.
P.S. I have deliberately focussed on the dynamics of the books and films laying aside the dynamics of the books and TV serials, of comic and graphic novels and their association with the silver screen. I seek to explore these aspects in a future article.
About the Author : Tanima Ghosh lives in Calcutta and is currently pursuing her Masters in ComparativeLiterature at Jadavpur University. She is a voracious reader, a vivid dreamer and an aspiring globetrotter. She firmly believes that books are for travelling the world without moving an inch and movies as being the embodiment of all the variety that this world has to offer and then, some more.
About the column : Potpourri. A medley of write ups on Films, Books and more.
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