Director Abhishek Kapoor and author Chetan Bhagat dropped in at DNA for a stimulating discussion on the synergy between books and films.
What are the pros and cons of working on a film based on a book?
Abhishek Kapoor: The plus point is that everyone has read it, is already aware of the book and if they’ve liked it, the movie starts on a good footing. But then comes a lot of responsibility, because the book has been liked so much, the audience wants more value for their money. People expect the movie to be better than the book. They want it to be worth their while, because anyone who has read the book has visualised the film in their head in some way. So we have changed quite a few things. It should be a fun experience for the audience, especially for the ones who’ve already ready the book.
What were the elements that you had to drop from the book for Kai Po Che?
Abhishek: Certain things that feel good in a book and do not work on screen. You can’t explain certain things, for example the thoughts of the narrator.
Chetan: All my books are in first person. The thoughts of the protagonist may be very witty or insightful. But those thoughts cannot always be picturised. But we try and incorporate it through a visual or any other angle. In the book, the protagonist talks about how he wants to be big and how he wants to make money. This is hard to show on screen, but the opening scene of the trailer shows them sitting in a car and they are imagining that they own the car. This symbolises their aspirations for a better life, which a lot of young Indians have but they are held back. So all they can get is imagining themselves driving that car. Now this is not something I can do in a book, it can only come in a film from a director’s vision. In a book the same thing will take twenty pages of text. In the book he talks about his angst, his pent up frustration and this may not even be registered in the promo, but the mood of the film sets the tone.
The synergy between books and movies, especially now that we see a lot of popular books being made into movies, do you think this is there to stay?
Chetan: Yes, it is there to stay. In Hollywood more than 70 per cent of films are made out of books. One of the reasons is for pure business risk reduction, because you know that the story works on paper even without stars, without music, the story is already a hit. Second factor is popular books tend to be very cinematic. So the connect is already established. For example, Twilight is the biggest opening movie, Hunger Games was another hit irrespective of who was acting in it. Bollywood is not at that stage yet. I am hoping though, one day my novel has the biggest opening. I do admit 3 Idiots was large because of Aamir. But even compared to other Aamir films 3 Idiots was beyond that. Somewhere down the line, the story helped in making the film achieve that. Now the real test lies, when we do not have an Aamir Khan. Here we have the filmmaker and the story, now lets see what business the film generates. And if that can get us an opening, then for sure, this trend is here to stay. People these days are looking for alternative to stars, not everybody can get stars.
Sometimes movies don’t live up to the book, is that a worry for Kai Po Che?
Abhishek: Not at all. Once I have taken up this project I have made it mine. I know it is Chetan Bhagat’s book, but in my heart it is my film. For Bollywood, adaption from a novel, this may not stand true.
Chetan, most of your books are based on Indian characters and space, are you planning to write anything out of the Indian context?
Chetan: It is unlikely that I will do that. My goal is to reach Indians through writing. To transform India, to get a big Indian audience and then infuse my views about what needs to change in the country. So it is unlikely to write about three Norwegians who go on a fishing trip.
Chetan, have ever been tempted to turn filmmaker?
In fact I was tempted not to, after seeing how much hair Abhishek has lost..(laughs). I am connected to films but it is not a burning desire to make a movie. I have a good thing going in my writing, and it’s not just stories now, it’s social networking, opinion pieces, columns and I feel it’s making a difference and people are noticing. So I do not want to give all that up. Directing is a immersive process. I would have to immerse in it totally. I do not see myself at the moment, turning into a director. It is not something I would be passionate about.