The contemporary connect of books and films

What’s the common link between Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend, Sunhil Sippy’s Noor and Kabir Khan’s Phantom? Well, for starters, they are all movie adaptations of books. Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend, Saba Imtiaz’s novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me! and S Hussain Zaidi’s Mumbai Avengers, respectively provided material for these movies.

While Indian filmmakers have often sought to adapt classics, and will continue doing so, more and more filmmakers, like Suri, Sippy and Khan, are looking towards contemporary literature for their movies. Meghna Gulzar is adapting Harinder Sikka’s book Calling Sehmat starring Alia Bhatt, while Akshay Kumar is shooting for Padman, based on his wife Twinkle Khanna’s short story by the same name. A couple of days ago, Saif Ali Khan confirmed that he will be playing Sartaj Singh, a police officer, in Netflix’s India original series Sacred Games, based on author Vikram Chandra’s 2006 award-winning novel.

Changes in the movies and books industries

Author Amish Tripathi believes that there are a number of changes happening in the movie industry as well as the book publishing industry, that are leading to this move. “What’s happening in the movie business, is that with the spread of social media, it’s not enough for a film to have a big star in order to get a good opening. Those days are gone. Now, when a movie is good, social media really turbo charges it, and if it’s bad, it kills it within a few hours.

Now, the product itself has to be good and if the story is good, it will succeed everywhere. Where does one look for good stories? In books! And if it’s a bestselling book, it means the story has already proven itself,” he says.

Pointing out to what’s happening on the book front, Amish says that till 10 years ago or so, many English language books in India, had very little do with Indian culture. “They were heavily westernised. So, most of the English language books were more about presenting Indian exotica to the west. Why would a Bollywood filmmaker pick a story like that? His market is primarily India. Now, the book market has also become more ‘Indianised’. The bestsellers are actually written with Indian sensibilities, stuff that common Indians can connect with,” he adds.

Tried and tested

Director Sunhil Sippy, who directed the Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Noor, says that maybe it makes producers feel more secure if the story has already worked in one medium. “When it comes to texts, you already have the stories and characters. The plot and the narrative already exist. Maybe that makes producers feel more secure. Maybe it gives them a greater sense of context of what they are doing as they have something which already has a following,” he avers.

Author Ashwin Sanghi seconds Sippy’s opinion. “I would imagine that from a production perspective, it would be easier to look at things which have already struck a chord and have some resonance with an existing target audience.” Bhavani Iyer, who has written the story and screenplay for Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi, based on Calling Sehmat, feels that many times, producers prefer to adapt books as they can see a beginning, middle and end right at the outset. “Production houses need to keep making movies and contemporary literature is a very easy place to look at. If the books have done well, people have related to it, that can probably be a film people will want to watch,” she adds.

However, does a successful book always translate into a hit film? “Not necessarily,” adds Sunhil, whose Noor didn’t do particularly well at the box office. “I don’t think it makes it easier or safer. I still think original work has a very powerful space. But it’s unfair to compare a book with a film anyway, because both are different experiences. So, I don’t think it makes life easier for a filmmaker,” he says.

Audience connect

The audience’s connect with stories that are relevant today is another major factor when it comes to filmmakers turning towards these stories, feels Bhavani. “I think contemporary literature is doing well as it reflects the times.

The stories are of today and our audiences feel connected as they are looking for characters who are probably like them,” she avers. Trade analyst Amod Mehra is of the opinion that content is king when one is looking at films.

“And if a book has been a bestseller, then it becomes easy for producers to get actors to work on them. Half the battle is won that way!” he adds.

As both authors and film experts stress, at the end of the day, it is good stories that the audience is after, whether it comes from classic literature or contemporary. Amish, who is tight-lipped about which studio has bought the rights to his book, The Immortals of Meluha, has his books set in the ancient world. He says, “What the audiences want are good stories. They can be set in the modern world, or be fantasies, but they should be stories that connect with them. They should have something to do with Indian reality or Indian ethos.”