Tuesday, 23 May 2017

From Pages to Silver Screen

There is some sort of warmth that comes from reading classic fictions. Treasure Island, David Copperfield, Around the World in 80 days and the plethora of English humour from P. G. Wodehouse are just a few of them. Sherlock Holmes has always been my favourite in the mystery genre. Many readers debate that there have been mystery novels with better twists than Sherlock Holmes. I would not disagree with them.
But then Sherlock Holmes was written at a time when it was considered a first of its type. The later mystery novels written were built on Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. The authors took a few steps ahead from the plots provided by Arthur Conan Doyle and gave the protagonists some better power of observation and consecutively new twists at the end. But then you could not debate on the way his character was defined. Someone who has unlimited knowledge of various subjects and yet would find it hard to understand that the earth revolves round the sun.

If I look from the Indian perspective, there have not been many authors whose works can draw a parallel to that of Rabindranath Tagore’s. I had been working in recent times on articles that showcase the number of books which have been adapted into highly acclaimed movies and series. While working on the same I realized that though movie makers were smart enough to capture Pulitzer prize winning novels and present them on the silver screen there have not really been any attempt on the classic novels. Of course, there have been movies made on the novels I have mentioned, but besides the recent adaptation of Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, I could not find any of those movies reaching the cult status like that of The Godfather series.

I would like to consider myself as a part of this generation and of course Game of Thrones is one of my favourite series. The depth of the story and the element of surprise in the script is probably the reason that this series strikes a chord with its audience. Similarly, I enjoy the Netflix series’ House of Cards. Watching a protagonist who can be described by adjectives like deceptive, manipulative, sinister and murderous is not something that most people had seen before or were used to. But the series has a huge fan following and everyone loves to hate Frank Underwood. At some point House of Cards fans would say that they find him at least a tad bit inspiring for being the guy who would go to any length to get what he wants to achieve. What again works for both these series is that they were backed by some brilliant novels. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin on which Game of Thrones series is based has book lovers waiting for the next edition “The Winds of Winter” as much as the series fans are waiting for the next season. Similarly, Michael Dobb’s novel House of Cards has already been made into a successful series in the UK and now it continues to cast its spell in the US.

From an Indian perspective, Stories by Rabindranath Tagore directed by Anurag Basu is one of the best series that has ever been made for the Indian television. Malgudi Days directed by Shankar Nag and originally telecast on Doordarshan was another such series. It was based on the works by R. K. Narayanan. The stories were simple yet brilliant and the direction and presentation honest. Another series that strikes my mind for a different type of story line which showcased the lives of a Hyderabad’s nawab family is Farmaan. Directed by Lekh Tandon, this series was again based on a novel. Rafia Amin book Alam Panah was beautifully adapted into the series.

While I do not want to delve into my feelings of the serials, reality shows and movies made currently in India, I can’t stop myself from questioning that why do we not have strong scripts with deeper and wider story lines. I agree that there is a lot of good work done even today. I would like to mention here that web series are doing much better than the ones on television. That’s probably the reason of success for Netflix and Prime Video. But the question is what’s wrong in adapting already available scripts in the form of brilliant novels. B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharat was an adaptation of an epic that Indians can be proud of. It was one of the most brilliant works of its time. But then this epic can be remade. Why can’t Mahabharata be made into a series with multiple seasons, with each season capturing the stories of one generation with limited number of episodes? Good direction, screenplay and actors will be needed and I am sure the series can be a major success. Everyone knows the basic story line. What would be interesting is to show the large number of other parallel stories captured as a part of this great epic. I hear a movie is going to be made on the same and I am sure that it would be a success, but I believe that even a three movie series couldn’t capture all the elements of this huge epic and it deserves a lot more screen time.

In Hollywood I agree that it is a more common trend for movie makers to pick up novels with strong stories. A quick look at the history of Academy Awards would also show that most of the Best Picture winning movies have been based on books. This has been going on right from the advent of Hollywood perhaps. But I think there are a lot of classics which can still be made into better series and movies.

With that I sign off. Writing so much on television series and movies has just made me realize that I am yet to start watching Narcos.

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