It may not be apparent outright, but what do films such as Devdas, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977) and Omkara (2006) have in common?
Well, they’re all film adaptations of widely read and popular literary pieces. And, of late, such adaptations in Bollywood seem to be on the rise, with books by authors such as Amish Tripathi and Chetan Bhagat increasingly becoming a part of the popular consciousness.
Films based on books are quite common in Hollywood, and a few examples exist in Bollywood, too. However, in the past few months, several A-list Hindi cinema celebrities have snapped up rights to adapt popular books into films. At least four such films are in various stages of production right now, and several well-known directors are also working on more adaptations.
What’s interesting is that directors and writers aren’t restricting themselves to respected literary pieces and epics — a number of mainstream books and stories are being steadily picked by actors and film-makers. The list includes Alia Bhatt, who will reportedly star in Meghna Gulzar’s adaptation of Harinder S. Sikka’s Calling Sehmat, as well as Deepika Padukone, who is set to portray Rahima Khan aka Sapna Didi, based on a chapter from S Hussain Zaidi’s book, Mafia Queens of Mumbai.
The magic of books
Experts say this trend may partly be driven by people’s love of literature and the great stories books can tell. Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says, “Literature and the magic of books will never go out of fashion. Be it big stars or top directors, they have all heard of bestsellers and are aware that people have loved a particular piece of literature. If a large number of people have loved a book, it will make for a great film too, provided it’s done well.”
This may be one reason why the list we mentioned earlier seems really long. Akshay Kumar has just wrapped up work on Padman, a film adaptation of a story from his wife Twinkle Khanna’s book, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. Also, this Friday will see the release of Shraddha Kapoor-Arjun Kapoor-starrer Half Girlfriend, which is based on author Chetan Bhagat’s book of the same name.
Although adaptations of literary pieces into films have become a big thing in Bollywood, experts admit that it can be a very challenging task to adapt a book into a film. “It’s not easy to summarise a book into a two-hour film, so you have to pick and choose,” says Half Girlfriend director Mohit Suri, who Bhagat approached with a manuscript even before the book hit the stands. “There is a lot that you need to edit while making sure all the essential points are not lost. It’s like hundreds of people have read the script beforehand. So, you can never know who loved what part from the book.”
A number of A-list directors such as Sriram Raghavan, R Balki, Ashutosh Gowariker, Nitesh Tiwari and Sajid Khan are also working on various Bollywood adaptations of books. Raghavan is reportedly working on Vikas Swarup’s The Accidental Apprentice, while Balki is directing Padman, and Gowariker is working on Vikram Sampath’s My Name Is Gauhar Jaan. Tiwari is adapting Varun Agarwal’s novel How I Braved Anu Aunty And Co-Founded A Million Dollar Company and Sajid Khan is working to make a film on Jeet Gian’s The Three Wise Monkeys.
Experts see the surge in interest in literature as a “great sign”. “India has a great cultural heritage and rich literature. I don’t know why film-makers haven’t chosen from them more frequently. They are great stories and so, have always made for fantastic cinema too,” says Adarsh.
In the past too, a number of novels and stories have inspired or have been outright adapted for celluloid. The list includes titles such as Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam (adopted from Bengali author Bimal Mitra’s book Shaheb Bibi Golam), Guide (based on RK Narayan’s book of the same name), Junoon (based on Ruskin Bond’s novella A Flight of Pigeons), Parineeta (based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s work), Maqbool (adapted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth) and Haider (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet), among many others.
Paucity of writers
But why are so many big names turning towards literature now? “In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, the Hindi film industry had a large number of writers, which was one of the reasons for the variety of films those days. But now, where are the writers? They aren’t paid well or given as much respect and importance as they used to get,” says trade expert Amod Mehra.
Mehra goes on to add that most writers today want to turn directors. “But the ultimate side-effect is that writers have become a rare entity these days. In such a scenario, film-makers, who need stories, have to turn towards literature,” he says.
The epic take
For years now, Indian epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana have spawned multiple films and TV shows. Currently, Malayalam superstar Mohanlal is set to play Bheema in The Mahabharata, in which the epic’s story will be portrayed from Bheema’s perspective. The film is an adaptation of Malayalam writer MT Vasudevan Nair’s Jnanpith Award-winning novel, Randamoozham. The Ramayana is also set to be made as a trilingual film — it’ll be in 3D, a three-part series.