Books,  Events,  Films

Movies are like a kidnapping: Books versus their film adaptations

Do authors like to see their work portrayed on celluloid? And when that is done, are they satisfied with the final product? Of course, they do want the film based on their book to succeed. But isn’t there a secret desire to be told: “But the book was better than the film”?

Questions like these were raised in one of the interesting sessions at the 2019 Jaipur Literature Festival this year. The authors who participated in this discussion on books and their cinematic adaptations were Yann Martel (“Life of Pi), André Aciman (‘Call me by your name”), Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”) and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (“The Mistress of Spices”). The conversation was moderated by Sandip Roy.

Yes, it is a privilege to be called upon by a producer of repute like Sir James Ivory, said Aciman. He then went on to talk about how screenplays differ from books. And now that the film has gone on to do well, he says he can’t remember how he first visualized his characters Elio and Oliver, separate from the screen actors. Chitra Divakaruni said that her Mistress of Spices was an old woman. While nobody who saw the film saw Aishwarya Rai as old. In any case, people age more slowly in movies!

Some producers prefer to have the authors on the set, other don’t. Ang Lee didn’t want Yann Martel on the sets in Taiwan for most of the time, for fear that he would obstruct the making. On the occasions that he was there, Martel said he found film making an “unbelievably wasteful” experience. In Martel’s book were three words: “The ship sank”. But the reconstruction of this reality on celluloid was both artificial and cumbersome. He felt that in some way the grand visualization of the film overpowered the message he wanted to convey. Somewhere amidst the 3D visual effects, his exploration of the ‘relativity of truth’, ‘faith’ and ‘reality’ in the novel disappeared. On the contrary, Aciman felt that the love-making scenes in his book ran into pages, were reduced to a cursory suggestion as they would perhaps not have been acceptable to the viewer.

“Movies are like a kidnapping. And the music is so manipulative, telling you what to think,” said Yann Martel. Irvine Welsh felt that books would always be better than films. Because every reader creates his own cinema in his head as he reads a book. Aciman went on to suggest that viewers should see the film first and then read the books. That way they will not feel cheated, as scenes and characters disappear during the making of the film adaptations.

Yann Martel felt that books would always outlive films. Film releases are for short duration, and one had to wait for a theatre to be showing the film. Though with online media this might not be entirely true. But then it is always easier to pick up a book and start reading any time.

Can you think of your favourite film which is based on a book? Quite often a visually impactful film compels you to read the book on which it is based. Books and films are both based on imagination. They are different faces of the same coin. But books perhaps give the audience more space to construct their own truths.

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