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Novel films, to perpetuate a pun

By Prem Panicker
September 04, 2003 12:41 IST
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V Ramakrishnan/Bangalore: Nice topic again!


I totally agree with you that Puzo's Godfather was an overwhelming read. But surprise of all surprises, the movie is equally fantabulous - thanks mainly to the superb casting and also a haunting musical score. And much as you may eulogise the movie Day Of The Jackal, since I am a die hard fan of Forsyth, i think the book still rocks! I guess its probably more becoz i dont want to accept the fact that somebody beat me to it in making it as a movie.. When i first read the book, all i told myself was - Oh boy, heres a potential potboiler , i have to make it as a film :-)))


I just read ur article and this morning and in my rush to reply to u, I might not be able to think of many otehr classic book to movie adaptations but one thing i wud surely recommend is Schindler's List. The book is also touching and emotionally riveting. I have read The Saint (Remember Simon Templar) and found the movie to be almost true to the original. Nice, racy read !!


Hmm, one of my friends suggested that Catch Me If You Can is also a cool timepass read but i cant vouch for that...Hey, would u believe it but i have not yet seen Jurassic Park. Spielburg must have done a great job but i enjoyed the book so much that i still havent got myself to see the "brontosaurs and dinosaurs" on screen.. I prefer that they stay in my imagination !! :-)


And hey, u know wot !! Reading ur articles sometimes make me feel so jealous.. U are in the USA and get the chance to read some amazing titles while we, the unfortunate in India don't even get to see the book. :-(( Anyway atleast we feel great when someone like you review the book !! Carry on ur good work !


Prem: Oh, I am a Forsyth freak too (though a somewhat diluted freak as far as his later books are concerned); but I still loved the film. Besides the film itself, I liked what Zinnemann had done to the theory of film-making – he broke every rule in the book and then some.


For instance, he starts off with characters who never reappear, which was supposed to be a theoretical no-no; his hero does not even appear until half the film is over – which again is frowned upon because the thinking is supposed to be, you need to give time for the audience to build a rapport with the central figure; once having introduced Claude Lebel, he then takes him off the stage while the investigation shifts to the British end, and so on.


In fact, I remember reading – can't recall the name of the book off hand, but will dig it up and post it in here soonest – a book that reviewed some half a dozen movie scripts; the unifying thread was that each of the films broke away from cinematic norms and in the process, rewrote the grammar of film-making. Jackal was in that list – like I said, lemme see if I can dig up that book, and post some of the comments that were made in there on this.


Haven't seen the Saint movie, but Simon Templar was always a favorite of mine, so I got hold of the TV series and watched some of that, on DVD, a while ago.


As to the being in USA bit, I don't know about that – I collected books when I was there, too; I found that thrillers were easy enough to get, and if you went to the right kind of bookshops (say Lotus, in Mumbai, for instance) you could get the rarer books, and they would even import the books you wanted, and which they did not have in stock.


Murali Rangarajan/University of Florida: This is the first time I'm mailing you though I have read many of your articles. I admire your work! Keep it up! I read your articles on movies starting from Same difference. Splendid ones!

My take on movies made these days is the following: For the longest time (22 years), I grew up watching only Indian movies (mostly Tamil, since I am from Tamil Nadu), until I came to US. This may be hard for you to believe, but I had watched a whole of 3 Hollywood movies in those 22 years. They were The Towering Inferno, Silence Of The Lambs (I slept through more than half the movie and woke up only during the climax and so I don't know if it counts) and another movie that I can't remember the name or plot or anything. For the past four years I have been in US and have watched more movies in more languages than what I had the rest of my life and I haven't even scratched the surface.


But I have learnt this much. I don't like much of melodramatic movies like most of Indian movie products. Angry young man/cop, college romance, seasonal wedding and all is fine but the campy fun becomes grating soon. People are either exceedingly good or exceedingly bad or exceedingly undefined. Either way either everyone dies caring about them or no one seems to care (most of all writers, directors, producers and actors). I was one of the "public" the Indian filmmakers cater to and frankly I realise now more than ever that I watched many of those movies for lack of a better alternative. I don't mind dramas or even melodramas if only they are made with taste. Going overboard on everything, with bad production values, worse acting and a virtually non-existent script is too much. In the name of formula, this seems to have permeated Indian film industry and I think that is sad.


What do I like to watch?


I like to watch a disciplined effort, no matter what genre(s) the movie may belong to. I like to see that the filmmakers respect for the audience that is spending their time and money to watch their work. If they can't take pride of their work or worse yet, if they don't understand what sincere, professional and disciplined effort is, they really don't belong in my taste. I tried to come up with a list of Indian movies that I like after reading your article. I myself was surprised that I listed more than 50 movies in a highly incomplete list. The one thing that is common in all those films, cutting across all genres, is the sincerity of the filmmaker and his/her respect of the viewer.


Good and popular examples in India are the works of Mani Ratnam, Sanjay Leela Bhansali (I don't like his tendency to go overboard though I am absolutely fascinated and awed by his visual conception of scenes) and Ram Gopal Varma. So when I go to the movie theatre, I expect something that fulfills me – dramas, comedies or action – be it mindless entertainment or one that engages my mind. I am open to themes and stories when it comes to entertainment. All I want is a sincere work that does not dismiss me with a brush of hand, expecting me to take what is given by holier-than-thou people who determine what I should want and like.


I'll conclude this mail with a recommendation (I hear you going, Oh! Another one! J). The movie is The War Zone by Tim Roth. This is movie that has affected me the most, shaken me to the core and left me pondering for days. This is the most intense and powerful movie experience I have had in my life. I wish more people watch it. But let me forewarn you, it is not easy viewing, not by a long shot. Hope you watch it and write about it.


Prem: Thanks for the tip, Murali – will put that on my to-watch list, and let you know how it turns out. Thanks for the mail meanwhile – this is the fun part of doing this blog; the fact that readers respond at length and with some thought. Need to touch base with you on something unrelated, but will do that in email.


Rajesh Kumar Singh/Producer-Writer-Director: Very perceptive article. It highlights the real problems and dilemmas of the industry. Look at what Sooraj Barjatya did with Chitchor. Look at what is happening to talented actors like Hritik and many others. They are being wasted.


It is not that we don't have talented film persons. The problem is that the people at the helm of affairs seem to be blind. Even some of the actors and actresses consider their mediocre work as masterpieces.


My experience of making a TV serial Naya Zamana was very encouraging. I found out that we have world class performers. I have made a tele-film based on one of the tracks of that serial. The film is titled Laxmi. It has Sadia Siddiqui, Vijay Raaz, Ashok Lokhande,

Suhita Thatte, and Swati Chitnis in it. The film is being previewed for the students of the college under the auspices of the Media Centre, headed by Dr. Naina Athalaye. It is a 104 minutes film. I

can assure you that you would enjoy watching it.


You can also visit the following web site to know more about the film.


Prem: Rajesh, hey, thanks for the mail – I passed on your coordinates to my colleagues in Mumbai; they will be in touch with you.


Meanwhile, how about writing to us, in more detail, about your experiences as an industry person, the good and the bad? Readers would love to hear the insider perspective, I would think.


Azeem Feroz: I just cannot resist writing to you when two of my favorite pastimes are involved - Books and Movies. So here goes a list of my favorite movie adaptations of books I loved (for the sake of keeping your interest going, I will not repeat any of your choices, although passing on Godfather and the Shawshank Redemption is a bit difficult)

  • Disclosure: Michael Crichton's wonderfully insightful look at corporate cut-throatism with sexual exploitation with a twist as the main theme was a wonderful read, the movie was slightly disappointing but Michael Douglas was brilliant as the man torn between choosing between justice and a career-limiting move and Demi Moore portrayed the beautiful, intelligent career-driven seductress with aplomb
  • The Green Mile: One of my first Stephen Kings and I couldnt put it down till I finished it in one read. Again the movie version didnt live up to the expectations I had from it, inspite of a star cast boasting Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan
  • The Lord of the Rings: No book-to-movie adaptation list can be complete without a mention of Tolkien's classic fantasy book, cherished for years and finally getting the wide-spread recognition it deserved. The movie versions have not disappointed but have been a trifle short on detail (maybe not a bad idea considering some thought the movies to be too long)
  • Jurassic Park: A classic Michael Crichton book which has attained fame because of the movie but had the movie been truer to the spirit of the book instead of being a tad commercialised, it would have been more appetizing
  • Fight Club: One of those few ones where watching the movie made me read the book, the movie was ver impressive and if you liked it, read the book, its even better. Palahniuk, the author, is relatively unknown but he can write.
  • And Then There Were None : Agatha Christie's classic whodunit where ten people are stranded on an island and none survive - not the elements but a mysterious killer. Hindi film viewers might remember that Gumnaam was a takeoff from this (romanticised for Bollywood of course).


And books I wuld love to be made into movies:

  • Foundation By Asimov: If you are into sci-fi, then this has gotta be your Bible. I am surprised why this book which has all the makings of the next big trilogy hasnt found favor amongst film makers.
  • Enders Game By Card: Another must-read for sci-fi fans, there were rumors of a movie in the making with Haley Joel Osment but that has been a rumor for two years now
  • Life Of Pi By Martel : A delightful read wherein a young boy is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific after a shipwreck with guess-what, a tiger, an orangutan and a hyaena. Very unlikely you would say but the ship was also transporting animals between zoos.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Yes, this is the fourth instalment, not the next one due but I am dying to see how such an elaborate book with so many subplots will fit into the time for a childrens movie without sacrificng the spirit of the book


That's my two cents worth. Hope you found it interesting.


Prem: Azeem, hey, thanks for the tips. I am not too into sci-fi – personal preference would be movies that revolve around people and life in the here and now, I guess which is not to rubbish your choices. Disclosure, Fight Club and Then There Were None, most definitely – and while on that kind of book, you might also want to check out The Great Train Robbery, again Crichton.


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