READING IN THE DARK
By Damodar Mauzo
I often wonder why every year at IFFI, I see a number of writers from across the country flock to attend the festival. I personally love to watch films at the festival for two reasons: the films are well selected, and the quality of the reels and screening is effectively good. But there is more to it – I easily get connected to films as I do when I read a book.
When I tried to find answers to this thought, I received diverse responses. One said, ‘I find characters that I wouldn’t meet in my vicinity’. The other explicitly replied, ‘I come to see if my works are worth adapting to films.’ Yet another opined that he wants to imbibe the skill of minimal communication. Whatever their take is, there is some direct connect that attracts the literary fraternity to the festival.
A good film has all the elements of a good literary piece. Does that indicate that literature and film mean one and the same? As I ponder over this, I recollect a saying that was in vogue in Goa during the Portuguese colonial days. Babu- Shabu, pouca diferença
(there is little difference between Babu and Shabu – both proper names prevailing then). Well, I am more interested in finding common ground rather than hitting upon dissimilarities.
I recall how the filmmaker, actor, and activist, Ms. Nandita Das, at a literary gathering a decade back, claimed that she did not belong to the writers’ fraternity. It was when she was in Goa at the behest of the Konkani Bhasha Mandal to deliver a memorial lecture. I had then insisted that what she writes for films is literature. I remember telling her that though her film Firaaq (2008) was an ensemble based on a thousand true stories, it read like a novel to me. She’d then agreed that it was a narrative told in moving images. Nandita went on to bag the Best Screenplay Award at the Asian Festival of First Films (2008) and in 2019, she was nominated for the Best Screenplay and the Best Dialogue for the Filmfare Awards. She went on to write a book, Manto and I, that chronicled her journey of making the film Manto (2018). This I cite as an example of how filmdom brought out the writer in her.
I know of another writer who took to pen after serving for Tollywood for 14 years. Ashokmitran (real name Jagadisa Thyagarajan, 1931 – 2017) worked at Gemini Studios in public relations. On resigning from the Studios, he chose to become a full-time writer and soon attained great heights. His knowledge of films and experience in the film industry, where he interacted with all kinds of people, helped him grow in stature as a writer.
We see many good novels made into films. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (1969) was made into a film by the same title. Soon after the novel was published, Paramount Pictures, who saw the potential, jumped on it to get the rights from the author, even before the novel became popular. The screenplay was written by Francis Ford Coppola, with Puzo as co-writer. The novel became a New York Times bestseller and sold over nine million copies over two years. Meanwhile the film became a hit at the box office too and went on to bag multiple Academy awards. Both, the novel and the film are great in their place. Like most derivative works, here too a few changes were made that were acceptable to the author. Yet, the critics univocally agree that both are remarkable works of art with neither being better than the other.
Devdas (original title Debdas in the original Bangla) is a literary work by Sharat Chandra Chatterji that is the most filmed fiction work in India. On the novel written in 1917, the film was made in multiple languages and multiple times. The films were made in Bangla, Hindi, Assamiya, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. The story attracted the filmmakers right from the days of the silent movie of 1928 so much that, from P.C.Barua’s Devdas of 1935 to the modern-day appropriations (such as Daas Dev 2017) directed by Sudhir Mishra, Devdas has at least 20 versions. That is the magic of good literature finding its way into films.
R. K. Narayan’s 1958 evergreen classic, The Guide, is yet another example of how literature connects well with films. Considered as one of the 20th-century classics, the novel is made into a film that became an all-time-great movie. Time magazine proclaimed the film as the fourth-best Bollywood classic.
In Goa, the imaginative film director, Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, made a film based on the Konkani novel, Adrusht, by Mahabaleshwar Sail as Paltadcho Munis (2009) that was awarded the FIPRESCI prize at the Toronto Festival in 2009.
Of course, the diehard book enthusiasts will never agree that films are literature. They’ll say that it is imagination served on a platter. In the same breath, I can vouch for many film aficionados, who will not prefer a book to a film. I’d like to believe though that watching a film is reading a book in the dark.