“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out” – Martin Scorsese.
However true this may be, the story of the film matters as well. And as it turns out, most of the filmmakers find adapting the novels into films a better option to churn out more viewership. It is therefore, that the classics (read: Shakespeare classics, Jane Austen classics, Sherlock Holmes to name a few) have been remade umpteen times and yet continue to garner a positive audience.
It is believed that only Western filmmakers are drawn towards novels and have an urge to adapt them into films. However, stories from the Indian mythology, like Raja Harishchandra (which became the first ever motion picture in Bollywood), Ramayana, Mahabharata have been continually adapted into motion pictures, directly or indirectly. Rather, they form the crux of any film’s story. One cannot forget how impeccably Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti inculcated stories from Mahabharata and seamed it into a visual pleasure all the while relating it to the current political scenario. Or how Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja, reiterated the condition of a woman relating it to the character of Sita from Ramayana. Other classic examples would be Guide (references taken from R.K. Narayan’s The Guide), Devdas (Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s classic novel adapted into the films thrice – 1936, 1955 & 2002), Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (Bimal Mitra’s novel was made into a movie by the same name, in Bengali & Hindi respectively), Umrao Jaan (Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s Urdu novel, Umrao Jaan Ada) and Masoom (Erich Segal’s Man, Woman and Child). Also added to this list are the films from recent times like Pinjar (Amrita Pritam’s novel by the same name), The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel by the same name), The Blue Umbrella (Ruskin Bond’s novel by the same name), Maqbool (the film drew references from Shakespeare’s Macbeth), Parineeta (Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s classic by the same name), Black Friday (based on Black Friday – The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts, a book by S. Hussain Zaidi), Omkara (references from Shakespeare’s Othello) and Slumdog Millionaire (based on Vikas Swarup’s Q&A).
Novels are though a easy way out for filmmakers to create a mass following for themselves and mint loads of money, yet to present it artistically is not a meek man’s task. Things change when it comes to visually portraying the described matter. Narration is no more through words but through living characters. What changes when the novel is being compressed into a three-hour long film is the perception of the audience. The audience need not put in effort to imagine things; they can see it on screen. However, the three odd hours fail to give us the details which the novel mentions. Compressing the story to fit in the time length ultimately clutters the essence of the story which is why adaptations lead to poor box office results many a time. Many adaptations although turn out to be duds at the Box Office yet the novel remains a priced possession for the readers.
Amongst the plethora of films which did not work out at the Box Office were The Mistress of Spices (from the book by the same name written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni), Bride & Prejudice (an NRI-ised version of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice), 7 Khoon Maaf (Susanna’s Seven Husbands by Ruskin Bond), Hello (One Night @ Call Center by Chetan Bhagat), Aisha (a glamorized, modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma), Saawariya (White Nights, a short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky), were complete disappointments.
However, films like 3 Idiots (partly inspired from Chetan Bhagat’s 5 Point Someone) and the recently released Kai Po Che (Chetan Bhagat’s 3 Mistakes of My Life) still retain their charm amongst the audience.
After persistent failures of such films at the Box Office and with the audience, the filmmakers had become skeptical about adapting a novel into a film. They stopped recreating the magic of a literary masterpiece on 70 mm. But there were exceptions like Rituparno Ghosh and Mira Nair who continued to pay tribute to the intricately-carved words. As it turns out, the film industry in the past few years has yet again started developing a liking towards the wealth of literature. The novelty they look for in the story leads them to a range of novels.
With two of the famous novels namely Keep Off The Grass (Karan Thapar) and The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga) will soon be reeled out by Hollywood filmmakers, the Indian-English literature is at its zenith. The other best-sellers like Chanakya Chant (Ashwin Sanghi), The Immortals of Meluha (Amish Tripathi), Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie), 2 States: The Story of My Marriage (Chetan Bhagat) will also be made into motion pictures. Production houses are showing keen interest in many such books. On one hand if UTV is lined up to buy the rights of Revolution: 2020 (Chetan Bhagat), Red Chillies is engaged in wooing Anuja Chauhan, the author of the novel Zoya Factor, Nikhil Advani has announced his next which will be based on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women while Sudhir Mishra is contemplating on bringing out a film based on Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.
Only time will tell how well can these showmen recreate magic but the growing popularity of the novels amongst the filmmakers only makes our belief stronger that novels truly inspire – a filmmaker, a storyteller and an audience.