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Ray of light

By Prem Panicker
Last updated on: September 04, 2003 13:15 IST
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Aravind/Harrisburg: I don't know if anybody still reads books written by a guy named Alistair MacLean. I used to feast on his offerings when I was in school. My favorite is Fear Is The Key.

And I was surprised no one mentioned this in their section about good books made into good movies, but in my opinion two movies that came pretty close to translating the original book into awesome screenplay are Where Eagles Dare and Guns Of Navaronne. The sequel to the latter, Force 10 From Navarone was as bad as the book. But I'm sure that anyone who has seen Guns…still remembers David Niven's performance.

What about that giant among movies Bridge Over The River Kwai? Based on Frenchman Pierre Bouelle's epic tale of a war of will, this has an unforgettable performance by Alec Guinness (after watching this movie, I thought that should be Alec Genius).

More of my favourite 'book-movies': Day Of The Jackal, L.A. Confidential, North By Northwest, To Sir With Love, Forrest Gump, Shawshank Redemption, The Tailor Of Panama, Rebecca, The Untouchables.

The worst: the new version of Bourne Identity, The Beach, Disclosure.

Prem: MacLean was a favorite during my schooldays, too. In fact, in one of the earlier posts, someone mentioned Eagles and I tacked on Guns.

I remember seeing and reviewing Bourne Identity, when it was released last year; I found then that I had to forget about the book and see the film in isolation, because barring the idea of the amnesiac agent, the movie-makers had not taken anything at all from one of my favorite thrillers. In some cases, in fact, there was totally unnecessary dumbing down – for instance, the Marie St Claire in the book was a highly intelligent and successful woman who uses her skills as a banker to help Bourne; the movie made her some kind of tramp.

Come to think of it, the two Ludlum thrillers I liked best were Bourne Identity and Matarese Circle – didn't like the film adaptation of the former, and am damned glad no one has adapted the latter. Or have they?

Chetan N Roy: Most movies fail to capture the book. And some books are very difficult to transform visually. The director's interpretation of the novel could be so different from the reader's that the film turns into a very disappointing experience. One such example is the film of the brilliant novel The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.

My favourites are:

1. Like Water For Chocolate - A powerful story, superbly acted. A difficult story to recreate visually, and executed with beautiful effect. From the quality of the picture to the piano soundtrack, it's worth every recipe in the book.

2. Ghare Baire - A superb story by Rabindranath Tagore. Satyajit Ray transformed it into a dynamic story and portrays all the emotions and conflicts present in the novel.

3. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - I cannot remember who directed it, but it starred Richard Burton in a tremedous performance. Shot in black and white, it drills the bleakness of the story right into the viewer's bones. There is no soundtrack, and the dialogue is sparse.

4. Postmaster - Probably one of the most difficult stories to recreate visually. It's a short story by Tagore, with a poignant emotional ending. I could never imagine it being done in cinema successfully, but Ray accomplished it.

5. The Godfather as you already mentioned.

Prem: Actually, I've wondered about that; why do otherwise good filmmakers flub it, on occasion, when trying to convert a book into a film? Could it be because in a book, there is scope for exposition, for the author to delve into the workings of the characters mind and thus flesh out the actions themselves with insight, whereas that kind of delving is not often possible in a film? Not sure if that is the answer, it's a random thought that came up when reading your post.

Interesting, meanwhile, that Ray makes the list twice. I also recall being fascinated by this television serial he helmed -- short stories brilliantly told on the small screen. I wonder if CDs or DVDs of those exist -- they would be a collector's item.

Manvinder Kohli: I was going through your blog and it is an interesting forum for intriguing discussions for Indians, Cricket and Movies. I have been in the US for over six years now and make annual visits to Mumbai, where I am from. Every time I go back I get a better understanding of India and Indians. And I have my own conclusions drawn out on Indian movies. It came to me one day when we were having one of those "why is India like it is" conversations that NRIs like me like to have. Indian movies for the large part are not made for a discerning audience but for the masses and masses want a super hero and his "hottie". They want them to dance needlessly and generally do things none of us mortals would ever dream of doing in real life. The story is irrelevant as long as everything is larger than life.

So moviemakers have to put all of this in their movies to make money. Money on movies is not made from people like us whose definition of entertainment value is completely different from the general masses who will go to see Sunny Deol whoop some serious butt more than once. The home video and DVD market is so small that most of the business is done through audio sales and movie tickets. The reason why South Indian movies are considered "better" (this is only hearsay as I have not seen any, and I never would cause I don't understand them a whole lot) by critics is because the south has a higher literacy rate and the target market wants those kind of movies. It's all about supply and demand. It's the same in the US; the audience is a lot more sophisticated so the movies have to reflect that if they want to do well. My belief in this theory was strengthened when I saw a documentary on "nauch" performers or something like that. It is basically a troupe of female dancers who shake their hips seductively in rural towns to blaring music. The audience was 2000 men somewhere in Bihar who paid Rs. 40 each and were ecstatic beyond description watching this. I was just shocked at the spectacle.

Having said that I do believe that a sophisticated audience can be tricked into a cheesy plot with a slick package, but the masses cannot be tricked into not having the larger than life "hero" and his "chamia". Movies like The Matrix, Pirates Of The Caribbean, any Bond movie etc. get away with an extremely cheesy storyline because of the great attention to detail in the movie. I love all three movies because the little things are paid attention to, for example in Pirates, the "cursed" pirates look like skeletons in moonlight, and at the end of the movie there is a sword fight in a cave where they keep stepping into the moonlight. For a brief moment, one of the guys has a sliver of moonlight on part of his calf and down to his foot. That part of his leg is shown as bone and the rest of his body is normal. The scene would probably have looked no different if they would have missed it, but they didn't and it just adds to the value in the movie. This lack of attention in Hindi movies is what keeps critics and sophisticated audiences away from Hindi movies. They jump around so much that there is no fluidity. It seems like the entire crew that made the movie were amateurs and it leaves the audience jarred. I do not pay good money for amateurs; I can watch my free local college station for that.

I also noticed that you wanted to know how non Indians react to Indian cinema. I have watched a few films with non Indians and their reactions are varied. Most of them are poplite and try not to criticise the movie too much, but some of them are honest and feel like the actors are overdramatic, like in a play, the plots are intriguing (maybe because it is the only movie they will ever watch from India) and the girls are pretty. They regard these movies with the same "oh how cute" attitude they have with other things Indian. But it is nothing but amusing for them. The only two movies which were universally appreciated and watched a few times were Dil Chahta Hai, and Monsoon Wedding.

Amit Vilas Banose/Arizona: I think, I found some forum to voice my opinion about new Hindi movies. I am a student in University of Arizona and I am a serious movie watcher.

I have watched almost all the latest Hindi movies those did well and the ones are available at the India store in Tucson. Among all of them I liked Mr & Mrs Iyer the most. I liked it for its realistic story and superb direction by Aparna Sen. And I was so happy to learn that it won four National awards. I don't know how it did on the box office in India, but, I think every Indian should watch it. This movie is the one I would like to call worth watching at least once.

I am an avid watcher of Hollywood movies. In this summer I had a chance to watch great many movies. I will just list a few of my favourite Hollywood movies: Silence Of The Lambs (Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster), Who's afraid Of Virginia Woolf (Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Superb Sreenplay), Nixon (Anthony Hopkins), Guess Who's Coming For Dinner (Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn), Judgement At Nuremberg (Spencer Tracy and many other good stars), Absence Of Malice (Paul Newman and Sally Field), From Here To eternity (Cliff Montgomery), Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs (both directed by Quentin Tarrantino), A simple plan (Billy Bob Thornton), Beautiful mind, Gladiator, LA Confidential (starring Russell Crowe in all three)...

I can go on and on. Some of them are pretty old and a few new. I like them for their screenplay, direction, acting.

My question is, if we have access to watch these movies in India? Since some of the Hollywood movies are copied scene to scene (latest example that I can recall is Khwahish. I have seen Love story), I have no doubt that they do have access and they certainly watch Hollywood movies. Then why the hell they make movies like Chalte Chalte, Na Tum Jano Na Hum, Mohobattain, Kaante?

I watched Chalte Chatle recently. I could not understand how the hero could rent a car and drive heroine to her home in Greece when it was his first trip to that country.

If the directors and producers of Hindi movies can't think of original script, why don't they even copy them well? Have you seen Kaante? God, what did they do to it? And why do they need those stupid songs and dances?

I think I'd better stop here. Please let me know your opinion.

Prem: This is more for readers to talk to other readers – with me functioning merely as some kind of typist-cum-catalyst, actually! (*L*) But personally, I am curious about something – do Indian films get released regularly in Tucson – in the sense, do you have a theatre there that handles Indian releases? How do the films do – is there a steady audience for it? What in your experience are the kind of movies that have clicked with people in your part of the world, and what has not?

Do write in.

And meanwhile, will stop here for the day, folks. Lots more mail to look at, but will get to that tomorrow.

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