Thursday, 2 July 2020

Literature And Cinema

Updated: March 16, 2013 1:47 pm

While Mulk Raj Anand was richer by only Rs 5,000 and the film failed to generate any renewed interest in the novel, Narayan was richer by Rs 1,00,000, the curiosity that the film generated has made The Guide Narayan’s most successful creative work.

Despite a century of its coexistence the distance between creative writing and its visual depiction on the celluloid, if at all, has widened rather than closing in Indian cinema. Controversies and cudgels have refused to stop waging their ugly heads, especially in the Indian context. One can’t think of a living writer who has resisted the tingling of coins, or greater name and fame when parting with the film rights of their written or printed creative expressions. A huge gap exists between the publicising of a writer’s reaction to the visual interpretations of his specific work and what he was actually trying to indicate or underline. A hundred stories exist about RK Narayan’s reaction to the cinematic interpretation of one of his weakest novels, The Guide. Few learned academics or venerable critics have tried to examine the exact text of what Narayan actually said. Interestingly, none of them have dug into the history of the debate when in the early 1950s a famed writer-director KA Abbas simultaneously shot in Hindi and English his visual interpretation of Mulk Raj Anand’s Two Leaves & A Bud in Rahi. He said: “I felt Abbas was constrained by the limitations of his medium and after that experience restrained from allowing anyone to translate my works in visual form.”

Interestingly, Dev Anand had been a common feature in the two works. Interestingly also while Mulk Raj Anand was richer by only Rs 5,000 and the film failed to generate any renewed interest in the novel, Narayan was richer by Rs 1,00,000, the curiosity that the film generated has made The Guide Narayan’s most successful creative work. In comparison few such issues crop up in the West where books and films are concerned. Therefore, a more harmonious relationship between cinema and literature is needed. As film-maker and theorist, Arun Khopkar has noted somewhere:”Mise-en-scene is a mental construct. It helps the director/writer to organise his characters, their groupings, costumes and décor, etc… In cinema and literature mise-en-scene is used to organise the material and to convey the creator’s sympathy and antipathy to what is depicted. It gives control, not only over the action, but also over the emotional reaction of the spectator.”

In cinema and literature mise-en-scene even one of the greatest Indian film-maker, Satyajit Ray has escaped criticism—as also the purveyors of Indian art cinema. For instance, renowned Marathi theatrist and part time actor, Vijay Tendulkar had problems, despite close cooperation, with Mani Kaul’s adaptation of his play Ghasiram Kotwal as well as with his earlier similar attempts like Idiot based on Fydor Dostovsky’s book by the same name, and Aashad ka Ek Din, a play by Mohan Rakesh. Other such films and film-makers that have faced similar problems (regardless of theatrical release or not) are: Kumar Shahani’s filming of Tagore’s Char Adhayay; Nirmal Varma’s Maya Darpan; Shyam Benegal and Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of Ruskin Bond’s A Flight of Pigeons as Junoon and Susanna’s Seven Husband. Gulzar filmed Subodh Ghosh’s Jotu Griha as Ijaazat; Basu Chatterjee Rajendra Yadav’s Sara Akash.

While fewer Hindi stories and films have been adapted for the screen, except some of Premchand’s works, a lot has been derived from Bengali fiction, led by Saratchandra Chatterjee’s works from Devdas to Parineeta (four times each). Some of his other works would include Biraj Bahu, and others. Seldom has some of the finest stories from Southern India have found space in Hindi cinema generally depicting a hybrid metropolitan or glorified rural scene, notable exceptions being UR Ananthamurthy’s Samskara or Girish Karnad’s film version of Sudraka’s Mrichchakatikam: Utsav. Bimal Roy also converted Subodh Ghosh Sujata and Premchand’s Godaan as also Sadgati as a television film by Satyajit Ray. .

While addressing students during a debate on the subject at the FTII, Javed Akhtar argued:” Literature in cinema can only survive when its audience understands and respects it…The profile of the middle-class in the 50s and 60s was very different. This was a class that was rooted and educated. Cinema, literature and audiences form a trilateral relationship and they all touch each other. Only audiences who appreciate and respect literature will like to see it in cinema. The middle class of the 40s, 50s and 60s had that respect, which is why good literature through cinema thrived.” Akhtar thus seemed to indicate that today’s audience had no familiarity with good or classic literature, or for that matter what differentiates cinema from literature.

UR Ananthamurthy, whose highly controversial novel, Samskara was adapted by Girish Karnad into a film, talked about the changes the director had brought about in the screenplay, confessing: “I remember being very unhappy with the film. Many of the ideas were lost. Girish wanted to delay the death of one of the characters, thereby keeping the suspense alive but I thought that was taking away the essence of my story—I didn’t want my ideas to be tampered with. I understood his compulsions but I remember telling Karnad how ‘I could not spoil the texture to enhance the structure’.” There lies the perennial essence of an inconclusive debate between the writer and the film-maker. The writer not necessarily in tune with the requirements or pitfalls of the visual medium and in love with a character or his or her actions sees it as a misinterpretation or representation.

Rabindranath Tagore is supposed to have prophesied that in time cinema will evolve a language of its own. Concluding the perennial debate in motion, it can be said that cinema is a visual medium, conveying the story through moving images that a viewer is able to absorb instantly while literature is something to be mulled over, replayed on the mental screen situation by situation, imagine and interpret motivations behind a character’s action or intent, contemplated and absorbed.

Generalities apart there the one question that will be always open to debate and discussion: Whether there is anything common in the language of cinema or their will always exists a love-hate relationship between writers and film-makers. The former raise objections to the changes made by film-makers in the visual presentation of their works, forgetting the distance that there indeed is a yawning gap in the narrative style of the two medium. Why, even film-makers and scriptwriters have come to near blows. Mercifully, that did not happen when KA Abbas raised objections to the changes Gulzar had made for the screen version of one of his short stories.

By Suresh Kohli

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