From print to silver screen

From print to silver screen

Transforming a renowned book into an edge-of-the-seat thriller for cine-goers is a craft only a handful of directors seem to have mastered. Over the...

Transforming a renowned book into an edge-of-the-seat thriller for cine-goers is a craft only a handful of directors seem to have mastered. Over the years, many books were meticulously studied, painstakingly worked upon and scrupulously transformed into films. While some transcended imagination and impacted audiences in a profounder manner than the books themselves, a few others tanked at the box office and tapered off into oblivion.

Of course, there exists no hard and fast rule that every book that’s a best-seller must be a blockbuster when converted into a movie, however, in the light of another renowned book ‘Victoria and Abdul’ converted into a major movie for the viewing pleasure of global audiences, the time seems only appropriate to take a peek at the successes and failures of the books that are transformed into movies!

Victoria and Abdul
‘Victoria and Abdul’ written by Shrabani Basu makes for an engrossing read as it offers a different and never-before witnessed aspects of the then Empress of India – Queen Victoria. One shouldn’t be misled into assuming it to be fictional narrative since it’s a reliable, documented source, correlating with the Indian history. The book delves deeper into the emotional characteristics of the queen and her immeasurable affection for Abdul Karim. The friendship between the two blossoms as Karim, who hails from Agra, India, arrives in England to wait at the tables on the occasion of the Queen’s golden jubilee celebrations. Slowly he becomes her personal assistant and her teacher or Munshi as they call, instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs.

The movie ‘Victoria and Abdul’ captures this essence in obdurate features. Judi Dench, who dons the role of Queen Victoria, plays the character forcefully, while Ali Fazal, who slips into the shoes of Abdul Karim, complements in his own subtle manner. The story is about an Indian who comes to play a crucial role in Queen’s life and in the affairs of the empire and how the royalty of the household is uncomfortable with the whole issue, sparking a near-revolt in the imperial family circle. At times, this Stephen Frears' film seems lost as there isn’t much drama to be unwrapped neither are there any livid intellectual discussions between the two that are worth engrossing the mind. The book to a good extent stands as a formidable piece over the movie.

The Godfather
One amongst the most celebrated movies ‘The Godfather’ was initially a crime novel, scripted by the Italian-American author, Mario Puzo. When ‘The Godfather’ hit the stands in the late 60s, it stood on New York Times Best Seller list for 67 weeks and sold nine million copies. Based on the fictional story of a mafia don "Don Vito Corleone" and his family, the book became an unprecedented success for its intricate detail of the mechanisms of the syndicate and portrayal of "Don Corleone" as mafia demi-god.

The famed Don Corleone’s lines “I’ll give you an offer you can't refuse" are actually taken from the novel ‘Godfather’. The mobs understand that these words must be taken with a pinch of salt as there exists an underlying threat. In the movie, Marlon Brando, who dons the role of "Don Corleone", stands a head taller with his professional yet uncanny acting prowess. The flick carved a niche amongst gangster movies. Shot as a series, ‘The Godfather I’ and ‘The Godfather II’ are held in high acclaim for their cinematic performances and are known to have overshot the fame of the best-seller and dissolved international borders, while making inroads into foreign audiences’ hearts with its first-rate cinematography and performances.

Gone with the Wind
Set in the backdrop of the American pre-civil war and post-civil war period, Margaret Mitchell’s book ‘Gone with the Wind’ is one heart-wrenching story. The book touches upon the dark times that prevailed during the transitional period of the civil war and how Scarlet O Hara, the protagonist, who actually hails from a wealthy family, struggles to keep away from hunger and impoverished life. The soul of ‘Gone with the Wind’ is the heroine Scarlett O’Hara, who is applauded and hated on an equal breath.

Her selfish attitude, where she marries her sister’s suitor, tries to steal her sister-in-law’s husband, time and again, and her devil-may-care practices to elevate herself above the impoverished life are parts that tear your heart. The movie ends on a tragic note, yet it evokes tremendous interest to watch. With a strong star cast like Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Leslie Howard donning the lead roles, the movie adds its own aura to the brilliant script. Back then, the book and the film, both stood controversial on several issues. However, the film has managed to be successful in capturing the myriad hues of the book, turning them into a dazzling rainbow.

My Fair Lady
The famous George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ was converted into both a Broadway and a musical. The theme seems to have struck a soulful note amongst audiences as one witnessed an enormous response to the musical. The story revolves around Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), who boasts to an acquaintance he could teach a flower girl to speak proper English and pass her off as the duke or the duchess at the embassy ball.

As a challenge, he picks a flower girl (Audrey Hepburn) with a thick cockney accent, making the mission difficult by manifold times. The movie chugs along on a tight line flavoured with songs that resonate with beauty. The song “Why can’t the English learn to speak?” is extremely amusing if one takes the lyrics into consideration. The professor, who embarks on the journey of teaching English to his pupil, falls unknowingly in love with her. This romantic comedy initially starts out on a little unsteady footing, but straightens out alright towards the conclusion. When the flick initially hit the screens, it played to huge crowds and had left its mark on audiences. When pitted against the book, one will find that the movie fared extremely well and performed to the hilt, drawing praises from different quarters.

Reluctant Fundamentalist
‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ written by Mohsin Hamid, is a thoroughly enjoyable read, where the language flows so vociferously you never once feel like putting the book down. What forms the central theme of the book are the author’s thoughts. The writer, who also happens to be the protagonist of the story, fears that prejudice, racism and hatred in their rudimentary elements will forever treat him as a terrorist in the western world. This at times is brusquely and satirically put.

Though the protagonist seems well-settled in his hometown after having worked in the western world, like the big bad wolf, the long hands of the American agents track him and hunt him down, making it clear eventually that his doubts were not ill-founded. The author’s one-sided narration never fails to pull on the heart strings. Ironically, in comparison to the manuscript, the film fails to ably portray the multifarious thoughts running berserk in this haggard of a man, who prefers the oriental to the occidental, which the book so beautifully captures. Mira Nair, the director, has gone the extra length in putting together a terrific star cast, precise ambience and intriguing situations to bring to fore true contents of the book, but somehow fails to deliver the goods. Though the flick failed to impress audiences, the book, even after all these years, dazzles like a jewel.

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen wrote some of the finest literary pieces. ‘Emma’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’, are amongst her recommendable works. Amongst all literary expositions, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is perhaps the only book that’s been converted into serials and movies umpteen times over. The story is quite enamoring as it rests on the strong and decent shoulders of Elizabeth Bennet, who is one amongst the five marriageable daughters of Mr & Mrs Bennet.

Her initial aversion towards Darcy, a wealthy bachelor, sets the momentum for a spiraling love-hate romance between the two. A sequence of numerous events leads to Elizabeth realising that behind the tough disposition of Darcy lays a rational and caring heart. Ironically, smitten by the love bug, Darcy too climbs down the high horse and goes out of his way to assist Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia get married to Wickham. The flick with the same title has a star cast that’s impressive. Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfadyen have carried their roles in style. The script though slightly tweaked stands good the critics' trials. The best-seller of course takes the due credit as no pictorial based movie could aptly emulate the masterpiece created by Jane Austen.

Fountain Head
Ayn Rand’s book ‘Fountain Head’ remains almost ageless. Published way back in 1943, even after close to a century, the book finds relevance and striking similarities existing even in today’s fast-paced world. When the book came out in the late 1940s, it caused a major furor. Ayn Rand’s fictional story of Howard Roark has bedazzled many. The central character, Howard’s undying passion for creating original, yet offbeat architectural pieces without compromising is what puts him against deadliest of all enemies – mediocrity and duplication.

Not to mention the jealousy and hatred of the industry cronies. The relationship he possesses with those who assist and hinder his work is strangely impacting and lends a definite thrust. The book became a phenomenal success and with it the thought to transform into a movie perhaps took an instant gratification. Shot in 1949, it was a black and white movie with Garry Cooper, Patria Neal and Raymond Massey donning the lead roles. The film opened to rave reviews though it lacked the appeal the book had endorsed amongst its readers. Although the book was unmatched in its presentation and articulates every emotion with audacity, honesty and depth, the movie fails on multiple factors.

The movie couldn’t really live up to the incredible reputation the book holds. Ayn Rand simply stands as the master of the game when it comes to narrating riveting stories.

By: Daniel Indrupati

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