With hits proving to be the elusive Holy Grail for our filmmakers, they are now going back to the books —literally, finds Lhendup Bhutia
An Indian living in New York embarks on a journey to find purpose in life — a journey that takes him from the hallowed pillars of an IIM to rolling up joints and even a stint behind bars. A group of youngsters at a call centre fed up with their lives and completely wasted get a call from God. If these plots sound interesting, then you are in luck as they will soon hit, not bookshelves, but a theatre near you.
“Though books by Indian writers have always proved interesting fodder for Indian filmmakers, what is new is the high number of adaptations of Indian authors writing in English,” says Indu Mirani, a film critic. S Hussain Zaidi’s Black Friday and Ruskin Bond’s The Blue Umbrella in the last couple of years have been made into movies.
Now in the offing are two Chetan Bhagat novels, while Karan Bajaj, a three-month-old novelist has also been inundated with offers from various filmmakers. Even Aparna Sen is adapting a short story by another author — Kunal Basu’s The Japanese Wife.
The success of Chetan Bhagat’s and Karan Bajaj’s novels have surprised and startled quite a few, and criticisms on their styles have been quite abundant. ‘Dumbing down of literature’ has often been a common refrain. “But one thing is for certain,” says Atul Agnihotri, the director of Hello (which has been adapted from Bhagat’s One Night At The Call Centre), “their styles of writing, the contemporary issues touched upon and their youth-oriented subjects have touched a chord with the youth”. Bhagat has already sold 6 lakh copies of his One Night At The Call Centre, while his Five Point Someone has been equally if not more successful, and Karan Bajaj has managed to sell 18,000 copies of his Keep Off The Grass in so short a time. It is this Midas touch that our filmmakers hope can rub off on their movies.
But adapting a book is no easy task. As can be expected, compressing hundreds of pages into a three-hour movie can be a daunting task. Rajkumar Hirani had wanted his movie Three Idiots to closely follow the plot of the book Five Point Someone but as his movie nears completion, he has confessed that his film looks very different from the book. Not only is a translation from Hindi to English required but even the media are different. “To convey the same message, while a book requires words, a movie will require the right sound, dialogues, setting and if required even a song, apart from various other elements,” says Govind Nihalani, who has made movies like Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa based on Mahasweta Devi’s novel. The memorable, award-winning movie Guide (which is perhaps one of the first movies to be adapted from an English novel by an Indian author) is known to have upset RK Narayan, the author of the book. Narayan is believed to have thought that the movie had turned out to be too romantic and dramatic.
Apart from English novels written by Indian authors, there have been innumerable adaptations of Hindi and other regional language books into movies. “Movies like Kati Patang and Neel Kamal based on Gulshan Nanda’s books proved to be big commercial hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, once the Salim-Javed duo took over scriptwriting, adaptations became less frequent,” claims Mirani. In recent years, Vishal Bharadwaj has made various adaptations of Shakespeare’s dramas, while many novels by Indian authors like The Namesake and English August have been made into English movies.
With the film industry in dire need of good scripts, many believe that a novel’s strong plot can provide the required respite. Kunal Kohli, who is trying to acquire the rights to Bajaj’s book, says, “Novels like Bajaj’s have fresh subjects and interesting characters”. And then adapting a movie on a book written by an author like Bajaj and Bhagat has other advantages. “They are brands in themselves and their names can draw large audiences to movie halls,” says Taran Adarsh, a trade analyst.
Having one’s book adapted into a movie invariably also benefits the author. Anticipating more interest in One Night At The Call Centre when Hello releases, the book’s publishers are trying to capitalise on the perceived opportunity by coinciding the release of the movie with a print run of one lakh copies of the book. Zaidi claims, “About 6,000 copies of Black Friday had been sold before the movie released, but once the movie made it to theatres, the sales of the book sky-rocketed to over 25,000”. “Even though a movie adaptation may help in the picking up of a book’s sales, what has me most excited is that a movie will enable my story to be told to audiences living in the faraway corners of the country,” says Bhagat.
Bhagat and Bajaj may have passed the litmus test and sold thousands of copies of their novels, but a new test now awaits these writers, one with crores of rupees perched delicately on their names.