Saturday, August 28, 2010

Booked and Shot

Bollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma hit the theatres recently. Christened “Aisha”, it met with rave reviews about the styling and clothes and not so hot feedback about the story, the screenplay, the dialogues etc.

I wanted to see the movie but it was an extremely busy, nerve-wrecking month at work and I didn't get the chance. So, now I will watch it on DVD sometime.

But it got me thinking about movie adaptations of books. Being a bookaholic, I generally find that movies do not live up to the book. In some cases, though, the movies make the book better.

So, I list here books that I thought were better as films and some which, I think, were unjustly treated by the filmmaker.

First, the good list:

Harry Potter 4, 5 and 6
I love JK Rowling’s world and the characters. But the fourth book onwards, I was seriously beginning to question where she was going with the story. Goblet of Fire had the endless Quidditch World Cup while Order of Phoenix and Half Blood Prince had some key characters being killed in what seemed like writer’s whimsy. The movie adaptations, on the other hand, got straight to the heart of the story. The amazing visual effects did not hurt either. Remember the underground lake sequence in the movie version of Half Blood Prince, where Dumbledore and Harry are standing on this slab of rock with a wild sea lashing around them? Breathtaking. Really.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy
I do not know how many people have read Tolkien’s epic work. It’s a fascinating world he creates but sometimes he gets so involved in the routine chores of Hobbits or the history of Middle Earth that he forgets that he is also telling a story. Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation, however, is flawless. From the stunning visuals shot in the harsh New Zealand winters to the wheezy, nasal tone of Gollum’s voice to Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn to the magnificence of Ents in an action sequence, the movies are a visual treat. The story is full of adventure and action, with nary the time to breathe between sequences. The tedium of endless descriptions that mar the book has been ruthlessly cut out of the movie. Three of the best fantasy movies I have ever seen.

Comedy of Errors
I have said this before. I am not very fond of Shakespeare. But Comedy of Errors is brought to hilarious life by Gulzar in Angoor. The movie, like the play, revolves around two sets of twins separated at birth and how when their paths unwittingly cross many years later, funny mayhem ensues. Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma are excellent in their respective double roles. If you have not watched the movie, you are missing out on a great weekend, time-pass movie.

It’s remarkable how some of the best Shakespearean adaptations are conceived and brought to stunning fruition by Indian directors. Vishal Bhardwaj, Gulzar’s protégé, created a gem in Omkara, an adaptation of Othello. A stellar ensemble cast ensured that the movie had great performances. Particularly memorable was Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi, the Indian Iago. However, the true heroes of the movie were Vishal Bhardwaj’s story, direction and music. Set in the hinterland of North India, the film has the rustic twang and flavor in every dialogue, note and gesture.

Coming to movie adaptations that are most definitely not in my good books:

Pride and Prejudice
This book has perhaps spawned more adaptations, sequels, prequels and ancillary works than any other. It is also one of the greatest romances and my favourite book. That is why Gurinder Chaddha’s blasphemy named Bride and Prejudice made me really mad. Aishwarya Rai, one of the biggest non-actors we have, was cast as the vivacious Elizabeth Bennet. Rai looked haggard, listless and totally unsuited as the “not handsome enough to tempt” but intelligent and charming heroine of Austen’s masterpiece. A chatty Darcy and Indian Lydia’s snake dance must have had Ms. Austen turning in her grave. It was so bad that I had to get up in the middle of the movie. It makes the Keira Knightley version look like a work of art. Seriously, Ms. Chaddha, what were you thinking?

The Devil Wears Prada: 
Yeah, yeah, I know. The movie won great reviews. Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestley was sheer genius etc. etc. The book however, is far better. It captures the travails and tribulations of Andrea’s life in a more captivating manner. The dialogues are witty. The situations are humorous and poignant at the same time. While we all may not work at a big fashion magazine, don’t we all identify with Andrea’s helplessness, frustration and feeling of being permanently sapped? I know I do. Somehow, the movie did not make me feel the same. No doubt, Meryl Streep was amazing. The softly spoken words laced with heavy, authoritarian sarcasm that could cut you to pieces with such flair. The style diva with I-am-the-queen-of-all-I-survey attitude. That is why the slight smile of acknowledgement that Streep gives to Anne Hathaway / Andrea at the end seems so out of character and made me put the movie in this particular list.

Sense and Sensibility
Yet another Jane Austen novel that lost its essence on the silver screen. Emma Thompson as young Elinor Dashwood was something of a stretch. I have never understood the tendency of filmmakers to overlook the suitability of an actor to a role. Good acting skills are necessary but the actor also has to look the part. So, explain to me how Emma Thompson could play nineteen year old Elinor. Plus, her romance with Hugh Grant lacked chemistry. So, despite perfectly casting beautiful Kate Winslet as Marianne and Alan Rickman as the much older Colonel Brandon, the movie does not match up to the book.

The Bourne Identity: 
I am quite fond of Matt Damon but I do not quite see him as a deadly assassin who is the protagonist of Ludlum’s famous trilogy. Plus, the movie did not follow the book, taking one cinematic liberty too many and to someone who has read the book, it is quite disconcerting. So much so, I fruitlessly kept on trying to link the events in the book with the movie until I got fed up of the movie. Definitely a better book than movie.

I have read the entire series. It starts with an interesting premise and degenerates into a near nonsensical, irritating and weird love triangle with a weirder climax. So, how difficult could it have been to better the book? Not too much, we can assume. But the movie fails. Let me count the reasons. One, Robert Pattinson’s make-up. He wore more of it than the entire female cast, including Kristen Stewart. Second, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s as the lead actors. He only stared out of a pasty white face and she cowered, cringed and stared back. There’s more to acting than that. Third, the real-life couple is completely devoid of any smouldering passion or spark on-screen. Stephanie Meyers’ best seller needed a sizzling onscreen couple. Well as sizzling a cold vampire can be. I actually preferred RPatz in the small role of Cedric Diggory in Goblet of Fire.

The Da Vinci Code
This is probably the only book for which Dan Brown would be remembered. It is riveting, informative, action packed and peopled with great characters. Robert Langdon is an unlikely and unconventional hero but he is likeable and believable (as an aside, I would not recommend the other two books that star him, especially The Lost Symbol). The movie adaptation has a rather unfit looking, middle aged Tom Hanks playing Langdon, who despite being in his mid-forties is quite athletic. Plus, the movie assumes that all its viewers would have had read the book. The screenplay was difficult to follow, with cryptic flashbacks and narrations. The discoveries and revelations which make the book fascinating looked cumbersome and labored on the silver screen. I was so disappointed with the movie that I skipped the big screen adaptation of the prequel,  Angels and Demons.

Little Women
The movie clubbed Alcott’s first novel about the March family with the second one, Good Wives, ending up with a mish mash of events that do no justice to this charming little saga. Winona Ryder as Jo march was a little too charming and pretty while Professor Bhaer looked too old (I maybe a little biased, since I  wanted her to marry Laurie). Somehow, the movie did not portray the quiet dignity, the simple joys and the delightful quirks of the Marches that we all know and love. 

You are puzzled, right? And you think I must have lost my marbles to put on this list Chetan Anand’s critically acclaimed masterpiece. The movie had timeless music, great story and the unlikely pair of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman playing Raju, the titular guide and Rosie. So, why is this movie here? Simply because it fails to match the pathos and humour of RK Narayan’s lucid prose and storytelling. Raju of the book has my sympathy despite his betrayal of Rosie. Raju of the movie comes across as a scoundrel despite Rosie attempts to forgive him. Dev Anand with all his sauciness and charming ways somehow was not convincing enough as Raju.

There are books that I strongly disliked and therefore steered clear of their movie versions. Leading the pack is Chetan Bhagat’s One Night @ Call Centre. Its movie version is an atrocity called Hello. Since I found the book pretentious and amateurish, I did not care what the movie turned out to be like.

Then there are books which I found interesting despite not particularly liking the author’s pedantic ways. Midnight’s Children is one such book. I hear Deepa Mehta is working on a movie version of the same. I think the outcome would be quite intriguing to see. I am also looking forward to Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, Part I & II.  Actually I can hardly wait for them.

On that note, I bid adieu. Until next time.


  1. I think the problem you mentioned with the movie version of 'The Da Vinci Code' - that it assumes everyone watching the movie would've read the book as well - holds true of the Harry Potter movies as well. Even the 'Twilight' movies to a certain extent. I guess since there's so much happening in the book, it's not possible to show it all in a 2-something hour movie.

    With regards to 'The Devil Wears Prada', I liked the movie much more than the book! I watched the movie first & read the book later. I felt the movie took a slightly different approach - the focus was on Meryl Streep rather than Anne Hathaway, where as the book focussed a little bit more on Andrea's trials & tribulations. Lauren Weisberger can get really wordy at times, she can really stretch the plot. And that's why I think I appreciated the tautness of the movie more.

  2. @ Scarlett: the difference between Harry Potter and Da Vinci Code is that the former is a series, with each book / movie carrying forward the plot. So, one would definitely need to either read the books before watching any of the movies or watch the movies in a sequence (same for LOTR). Da Vinci Code, on the other hand, shares only the hero with the other two Langdon books and in a sense is a stand alone. And in that sense I found it difficult to follow despite having read the book. :-)