Literature and celluloid
The advantages of using literature on celluloid are manifold. However, appeasing today’s Bollywood audience fed on the diet of Hollywood and television is a risky preposition
Last week two films released, ‘Dedh Ishqiyaan’ based in the glorious Lucknow ambience and laced in Urdu poetry. The second, ‘Yaariyaan’ about school kids discovering love and responsibility in the picturesque locations of Australia and Sikkim. ‘Dedh Ishqiyaan’ talks about the art and the artistes in a vintage world. ‘Yaariyaan’ caters to the youth with the most absurd lyrics packaged in Honey Singh’s melody. While ‘Dedh Ishqiyaan’ fared average, ‘Yaariyaan’ is a super hit.
It is evident that there is no connection between critical evaluation and box-office collection. Our youngsters have no interest in anything that is old world. So in the New Year post Pongal and Makar Sankranti, I take it as my responsibility to revisit films based on literature.
Granted that not all these have been successful but what’s important is that they are relished and respected even today. ‘Mirza Ghalib’ in the ’50s, ‘Do Dooni Char’ in the 60s, Gulzar’s ‘Mausam’ based on AJ Cronin’s ‘Judas Tree’ in the ’70s, Vijaya Mehta’s ‘Pestonjee’ based on BK Karanjia’s short story in the ’80s, Kalpana Lajmi’s ‘Rudaali’ based on Mahasweta Devi’s story by the same name, Deepa Mehta’s ‘1947 – The Earth’ borrowed from Bapsi Sidhwa’s ‘Ice Candy Man’ in the ’90s, and GV Kulkarni’s ‘Kairee’ or Govind Nihalani’s ‘Deham’ at the turn of a century.
Satyajit Ray’s ‘Ghare Baire’ (Bengali) set in pre-independence was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story about a progressive husband encouraging his wife to step out of the inner confines of home, and when she does, there is a storm in their marriage. His ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ was inspired from a novel by Munshi Premchand, whose books have inspired many filmmakers.
Ray translated Premchand’s story of a hungry harijan dying in the courtyard of a zamindar in ‘Sadgati’.
Bimal Roy’s ‘Parineeta’ and ‘Devdaas’ are inspired from Sarat Chandra. In the later years Basu Chatterjee ‘Swami’ and Gulzar’s ‘Khushboo’ have borrowed from Sarat Chandra and in present times Vishal Bharadwaj’s two films ‘Maqbool’, ‘Omkara’ are inspired by Shakespeare and ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ from a short story of Ruskin Bond.
Marathi actress Hansa Wadkar’s autobiography ‘Sangte Aika’ was ably adapted by Shyam Benegal as ‘Bhumika’ and Premchand’s short story about cow-slaughter turning into a curse was used by Girish Karnad for his debut film ‘Godhuli’.
Four period films exploring different nuances in the 70s included ‘Barkha Bahar’, a not effective depiction of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection’. Shashi Kapoor’s ‘Junoon’ adapted from Ruskin Bond’s ‘Flight of Pigeons’ and ‘Tamas’, a stirring telefilm by Govind Nihalani on the perils of partition, based on Bhisham Sahani’s novel.
There is an enchanting story of how writer Mirza Haji Ruswa was compelled to write ‘Umrao Jaan’. Ruswa, an alcoholic, was in huge debt and desperately in need of money. A friend agreed to pay him money on condition that Ruswa wrote a novel for him within a month. Ruswa was held a prisoner till he completed the tragic tale of a courtesan ‘Umrao Jaan’ exploited by her dear ones. The role was essayed by Rekha in a lifetime performance. The magic did not work in JP Dutta’s film starring Aishwarya Rai.
Popular Hindi novelist Gulshan Nanda had number of novels translated into films like ‘Pathar Ke Sanam’, ‘Neel Kamal’, ‘Kati Patang’ and ‘Daag’ are some of the prominent titles. The advantages of using literature on celluloid are manifold. The content and the characters are superior and subsequently the screenplay raises relevant issues, like in Ketan Mehta’s ‘Maya Memsaab’ adapted from Gustav Flauberts’ ‘Madame Bovary’ or Govind Nihalani’s adaption of Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa’, was close to the original.
Understandably a generation influenced by the Hollywood cinema and grown up on a diet of television is more familiar with Indian authors writing in English. A few years ago it was Rohinton Mistry / ‘Such a Long Journey’ and Khushwant Singh /’Train to Pakistan’, then Upamanyu Chatterjee’s ‘English August’ and today, it is Chetan Bhagat’s books that inspired ‘Hello’, ‘3 Idiots’ and ‘Kai Po Che’.
Every time cinema suffers drought of fresh content, they turn to literature. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra sought Sarat Chandra’s ‘Parineeta’ and Sanjay Leela Bhansali sought ‘Devdaas’, Rajshri Oza sought Jane Austen’s Emma for ‘Aisha’and in recent times Vikram Aditya Motwani sought O Henry’s ‘Last Leaf’ for ‘Lootera’. The cycle continues year after year and decade after decade.