Monday, February 16, 2009

On the issue of Adaptation.

A reliable source of debate is Indian cinema (of which Bollywood is often taken as a token representative, by mistake) versus Western cinema (Hollywood taking the role of Bollywood). This short piece takes a look at just one of the aspects which differentiates the two whilst not attempting to argue for which is better off. Adaptations.

If one takes a look back at the classics of Western cinema, one common thread running through them is that they are adapted from a book, which may or may not have succeeded on its own. And in the case that the author of the book is alive and kicking, then he/ she would most often that not be a part of the movie scripting team. This ensures that the basic premise of the book is not compromised and helps in capturing its spirit. The success of any movie depends on the strength of the script and also owes a large part to the conviction which the director and the cast have in the movie. This is where a movie adapted from a book scores , because the technical team of the movie and its cast have a solid idea of what their final outcome should resemble. And they take up such a project only if they believe in it.

Coming to Indian cinema, while such a system exists and has produced many a masterpiece, it is still not widely prevalent. It has been used most frequently by the established greats of Indian cinema , from Satyajit Ray to Adoor Goplakrishnan. One director who's an exception to this rule is Maniratnam. Though Thalapathi was a modern adaptation of a timeless classic, most of his other movies have seen him write his own script. This is possible though only due to his diligent research which again is dependent on books as the source.

A possible explanation is the strong oral tradition when it comes to passing on of stories. While India is very rich in its literature of the earlier civilizations, it is very common that even those stories are passed on from generation to generation through oral recitals. Another feature is the embellishment of the stories in songs, Villu paathu and Hari katha being two examples of its use in varied settings and cultures. This was evident in early Indian cinema where most of the movies were what Westerners would classify as musicals. A corruption of these ideals has what has led to the songs and item numbers which are used as stop gap and for entertainment rather than as a means to move the movie forward.

Having digressed a little, to bring back into focus the issue of adaptations, there are attempts being made in the Indian film industry of late to try and adapt novels into movies. However, the criterion seems to be more about the popularity of the novel rather than its adaptability. This curtails the creative freedom of the director because the popularity of the book would mean that the director has to try and stick to it almost verbatim. One wishes that in the future directors look at reworking popular and not so popular literature onto the celluloid. A happy marriage between the written word and moving images is critical for the success of both.


Srikanth said...

Why so sober Kutty?

Clean and direct post. Liked it. I, also, have a feeling that songs can be the real plus points of Indian films. They provide so much creative freedom and opportunities.

And yes, it is because of these recitals, our directors verbalize a lot in cinema too. They have to exploit the medium I feel.

S Balaji Srinivasan said...

Interesting post Kutti, expected a lot more spice though. May be you left it for another time.
As far as your list of Indian directors go, some names from the Tamizh industry that could have been added are KB, Mahendran, Sridhar and may be even Balu Mahendra.

Hariharan said...

I am just experimenting with short 'essays' where in I put in minimal effort and hope that those who comment bring in the spice and the variety ;)

The Mudd said...

nice one kutty... btw nothing on the topic of adaptation from movies??.. (copy rather).. after i told u abt the graduate et all...
when we have movies to adapt, why adapt from books... (and why read em ;) )