Literature and Cinema

Posted: August 6, 2009 in Uncategorized

Since the inception of cinema, literature has attracted all creative filmmakers. In india, pioneers like pramathesh barua and debaki basu have based their films on the works of such writers as sarat chaterjee, tarashankar bandopadhyay and others. Satyajit ray’s film pather panchali, which first brought indian cinema international acclaim, was based on a great work of literature by famed writer bhibuti bhusan bandopadhyay. And eminent directors across the world are still making films based on the works of shakespeare, dickens and hemingway. This proves beyond doubt the irresistible charm literature hold for filmmakers.

How true can cinema be to its literary genesis? It is certainly debatable that when a great work of literature is adapted to screen by a director, whether it should be true to the writers’ vision. Film maestro satyajit ray in charulata and ghare bairey and tapan sinha in kabulliwallah, based on tagore’s novels, have generally stuck to the writers’ vision while transforming it to celluloid. On the other hand, eminent filmmakers like mrinal sen, kumar shahani and adoor gopalakrishnan came in for flak when their films adapted from literary works digressed from the original. Sen was unfairly criticised for his 1965 oriya film matira manusya, considered the first striking film made in oriya, when his script was found to be different from the literary work. Likewise adoor faced criticism for vidheyan and kumar shahani for char adhyay for exactly the same reasons.

Personally I feel films are a Director’s medium. Films reflect a Director’s vision and thoughts. Great filmmakers like Godard and Mrinal Sen have always resisted recreating literary classics. Probably in such cases the filmmaker’s vision and statement gets dwarfed in trying to be true to the spirit of the literary classic. That’s why filmmakers like Mrinal Sen ( whose work I have followed keenly for several years) makes films based on the work of semi-classic novels, and incorporates his own viewpoints couched in innovative techniques while unfolding the narrative. Sen has been making films for four decades and from Neel Akaser Neechey(1956) to his latest Antareen(1993), his films display a freshness I found lacking in most major Indian filmmakers. That’s what I would call ingenuity.

On the other hand, countless good Indian films have been made simply by translating the works of Sarat Chaterjee, R.K.Narayan, Banophool, Premchand, Bankim, Shivarama Karanth, Muhammad Basheer, Subodh Ghosh, Thakazi Pillai, Manik Bandopadhyay and other great writers. These films are often made by a competent Director, and they have generally done justice to the writer’s story. At times, these filmmakers have succeeded in enhancing the appeal of the novel and have possibly contributed to an increase in its sales.

One thing we ought to learn from filmmakers from abroad. While recently we had films like “Romeo and Juliet,” “A midsummer night’s dream,” or “Great expectations” these literary classics have been adapted and modified to give it a contemporary look. As we know, these new literature-based films was much liked by the present generation. So, if we want to make a film based on a Sarat Chandra or a Premchand now, we must try to adapt it in such a way that the characters and situation appears from modern day. My gut feeling is cinegoers of today will lap it up, if it is made competently. Else the appeal of the classics diminishes if the characters and situations doesn’t look contemporary.

Before I conclude, I would like to add what Mrinal Sen once said in an interview. Sen refused to accept the fact that cinema is overawed with literature. By his own admission, Sen never based any film of his on some great literary works. Neither did he ditto translate any literary work to his films. Yet he never moved away completely from literature. The joyous elements in literature has always attracted Sen more than any other elements of literature. Synopsis of literary work is sufficient for Sen to develop it and give his own interpretation to it. According to Sen, cinema is a joint art form. One which can be called a crystallised art. Because cinema is a new art form, it borrows ideas from older, estabhlished art forms and carves its own road for progressing of the medium.

In conclusion, whether cinema should be true to its literary genesis is essentially a Directors’ choice. He should be allowed complete freedom to interpret the classic in his own way. Great films have been made either way, by conforming to the classic or even when it has been modified by a Director to reflect his ideas too, besides that of the writer.



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