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With bestsellers being adapted into successful stories on celluloid, Screen analyses the various factors taken into account when a book tells its tale on the big screen

Written by Ankita R Kanabar | Screen | Updated: May 2, 2014 12:50:57 pm
Representational pic Representational pic

The recent success of films inspired from books (2 States) has further strengthened the belief that adapting a bestseller into a film is a sure shot formula for success. However, there are several factors taken into consideration when turning the earmarked piece of literature into celluloid stories. The common notion that it is relatively easy to convert an already popular story into a screenplay is put to naught when the idea is discussed at the story table.
“One of the biggest challenges is to collapse a book into two hours, for a movie-watching experience,” says Supratik Sen, who worked on the screenplay of Kai Po Che (an adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s Three Mistakes Of My Life) along with Bhagat, Abhishek Kapoor and Pubali Chaudhuri. He further adds, “With the attention span that people have these days, you can’t have a long, preachy, never-ending movie. People don’t have the patience when watching a film; the kind which they have while reading a book. So, a film has to be served to the audience in a certain way— packaged nicely, without losing the ingredients that you liked in the book.” Most of Bhagat’s books (Five Point Someone, One Night At The Call Centre, Three Mistakes Of My Life, 2 States) have been made into films. “Books and films are different mediums, hence some variations have to be made, to suit the taste of the movie-goers. So many other things like locations matter when it comes to making a film,” says the author.

Fiction vs non-fiction

Adapting fiction books gives a better space to writers and film-makers to make changes and give it a fresh take. When it comes to non-fiction books, there are many more challenges. Sanjay Gupta who directed and co-wrote the screenplay of Shootout At Wadala based on Hussain Zaidi’s book, Dongri to Dubai, opines, “When you adapt a book, you have to find ways to communicate what a character is feeling and going through, because in the book, it’s just a narration. I had adapted a non-fiction book, so I know it’s a lot more challenging because you’re literally breathing life back into the character. To recreate that time, space and characters is tougher. In fiction you can create your own world. With non-fiction there’s also a risk of going into the documentary space, but as a film-maker it’s my job to entertain people.”
Even when it comes to adapting classics, a lot needs to be done to give it a contemporary feel, making it relevant to today’s times. Sen is also working with Abhishek Kapoor on Fitoor, that is inspired from Charles Dickens’ The Great Expectations. “This is also a mammoth task, it’s like a beast which has to be tamed. The work on the screenplay has been a little extensive, because it’s a classic book, and we had to give it a contemporary setting to make it relevant today. We’re almost in the process of completing it though. But the thing with Chetan Bhagat’s books is that they’re already relatable to the present times,” adds Sen.
Since books only have a narration and no dialogues, more often than not, a complete understanding of the character and writing dialogues accordingly becomes a task. Milap Zaveri who was the dialogue writer for Shootout at Wadala with Sanjay Gupta, Sanjay Bhatia and Abhijeet Deshpande as co-writers, says he got all the creative freedom while working on the film. Zaveri shares, “Celluloid needs a lot of dramatisation, and it needs you to be a little larger-than-life. So, a balance has to be struck, wherein you have to stay true to the spirit of the book and make the film in an entertaining manner. The book helps you know the characters and their traits, and then you create dialogues. It was challenging considering that I had to create dialogues for a person who’s dead. Sanjay Gupta helped me a lot since I’ve worked extensively with him in the past.” Keeping in mind the director’s brief, Zaveri had to reflect the power of the characters in their dialogues. “I was going through a lean patch that time, and had to write really well to make a comeback. I finished writing the dialogues within a span of one or two months. Eighty per cent of the dialogues I wrote in the first draft were retained in the film,” adds the writer.

The transformation

The process of converting a book into a screenplay depends on the content of the book. Some movies try to incorporate all the chapters, while for some, film-makers just take the idea and bring in fresh variations. “In Kai Po Che, we incorporated a few variations, different from the book. We had that liberty because Chetan was also involved with us, and we had quite some time to work on the screenplay. The book deals with a lot of things like earthquakes, riots, cricket, politics, so the backdrop was heavy. We had to tone down on it and make friendship among the three boys, the main essence of the film. What I think should be done is that we should take the basic idea, and give it a fresh take. For instance, the way Vishal Bhardwaj picks up and makes films on Shakespeare’s stories and puts his own stamp to it,” expresses Sen.
Adapting a book is also about being selective and deciding upon which chapters of the book should make it to the screenplay of the film. According to Zaveri, they didn’t include all the chapters of Dongri to Dubai in Shootout at Wadala. Only parts of the book that were suitable to the screenplay were taken. “A book has the luxury to have a lot of sub-plots, and then come back to the main plot. But a film has to stick to the main plot,” he further added.
Clearly, some of the hit films made from books in recent times have followed the formula while writing the sreenplay. But, there have been some that tried to veer off the trodden path. Hello adapted from One Night At The Call Centre and Aisha based on Jane Austen’s novel Emma are among the few that failed to make a mark.

Upcoming book-inspired films

UTV has brought the rights of Chetan Bhagat’s novel Revolution 20-20, to be helmed by Rajkummar Gupta. Sonam Kapoor will be seen playing a politician in the adaptation of Anuja Chauhan’s book, Battle For Bittora. Abhishek Kapoor’s next, Fitoor, is inspired from Charles Dickens’ The Great Expectations. These are just a few of the many books being adapated to make into films. Evidently, there’s no dearth of film-makers and studios taking a keen interest in adapting books to bring it alive on celluloid.


Book-inspired films in recent times

2 States 

Adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s book by the same name, 2 States is a love story, dealing with the coming together of two people, two familes, with diagonally different cultures. The film was co-produced by Sajid Nadiadwala and Karan Johar and was directed by Abhishek Varman, who also worked on its screenplay. Starring the fresh pair of Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor, the rest of the cast included Amrita Singh, Revathy, Ronit Roy and Shiv Subramaniam. The fact that Bhagat’s book was extremely popular, followed by the film’s cast and hummable music played a huge role in its success.
Kai Po Che

Starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Amit Sadh, Rajkummar Rao and Amrita Puri in lead roles— a cast which didn’t consist of stars, Kai Po Che worked solely on the basis of its merit. Abhishek Kapoor’s direction, coupled with Chetan Bhagat’s story and performances of all the actors, received huge appreciation, while the friendship theme added soul to the film. Amit Trivedi’s music, which gained immense popularity much before the film released, also added a lot to the film’s appeal and its reception at the box-office.
3 Idiots

Yet again inspired from Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone, 3 Idiots is considered as one of the biggest blockbusters of Indian Cinema. With Rajkumar Hirani helming the project after the Munnabhai series, added to the curiousity surrounding it, even before its release. It later received positive response from all over, giving the film a cult status. Not to mention the stellar cast of the film consisting of Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi was a cherry on the cake.


 Lootera starring Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha was based on author O Henry’s short story The Last Leaf. Directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, he also worked on the screenplay of the film, along with Bhavani Iyer. While the film wasn’t a blockbuster at the box-office, it did reasonably well, and got huge critical acclaim. Amit Trivedi’s music made it one of the best albums of the year. Lootera is considered one of the best performances by both the actors, considering this was the first time they moved to a slightly niche film as opposed to their mass-appeal projects.

Shootout At Wadala

Based on Hussain Zaidi’s Dongri To Dubai, Shootout At Wadala, directed by Sanjay Gupta had an ensemble cast of John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Manoj Bajpayee, Sonu Sood, Tusshar Kapoor, among others. The film had a huge mass appeal since it tapped the gangster genre already, popular among the single-screen audiences in India. With guns and goons, the film was brimming with fights, fisticuffs, heavy dialogues and item songs by Sunny Leone and Priyanka Chopra.

7 Khoon Maaf

Considered one of Priyanka Chopra’s best performances, 7 Khoon Maaf was based on the short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands by Ruskin Bond. After Vishal Bhardwaj saw the possibility of a script in the short story, he requested Bond to develop the story for a film adaptation. Bond later co-wrote the script with Bhardwaj. The film which is a dark comedy also starred Irrfan Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham, among others with Chopra.

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