`Cinema, literature on a par, building new synergy`

Updated: Feb 26, 2012, 16:39 PM IST

New Delhi: Cinema adaptations of novels are a challenge and helps forge new synergy between the screen and literature, speakers at a forum at the World Book Fair said.

The debate over the superiority of cinema and literature in the world of adaptations is now passe, speakers at a forum "Filming Fiction" hosted by the Oxford University Press at the 20th World Book Fair in the capital said Saturday evening. The forum marked the release of an anthology of critical essays, ‘Filming Fiction’ to commemorate 100 years of Oxford University Press in India.

"The last 100 years have seen a growing body of films and people still complain of lack of good scripts. Very few people have turned to novels to adapt them into cinema. Young people often write their own scripts but they don`t have the wealth of experience," film critic and writer Aruna Vasudev said at the forum.

She recalled the successful adaptations of Rabindranath Tagore`s short stories and novellas by Bengali maestro Satyajit Ray in his movies, ‘Ghare Baire’, ‘Charulata’ and ‘Teen Kanya’. She said filmmakers sometimes make the mistake of adapting novels that cannot be transposed liberally into a film.

"The question of comparing a book and a film is wrong. They are two different mediums. We have to get out of the fidelity fixation - the idea of the betrayal of the fidelity which in this case is the original text. If a film is an interpretation of a book, then it is not right to talk of fidelity. In the 1999 romantic comedy `Mansfield Park` by Patricia Rozema loosely based on Jane Austen`s eponymous novel, it is said a lot of what was revealed was hidden in the novel…," filmmaker Sohini Ghosh, a professor of film studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, said.

It adds a lot of worth to novels being represented outside their own territory, she added. Film critics look for what is cinematic from the cinema`s point of view - even in an adaptation.

"I am interested in the adaptation of books that have the potential for cinema," Ghosh added.

"Adaptations forge relationship with cinema rather than proclaiming itself independent of it," Ghosh said, adding "that Internet was opening up many new possibilities in adaptations and it was to the filmmakers and script writers to make full use of it."

According to Ira Bhaskar, a professor of English, cinema cannot be handmade into literature but the two must have a positive, creative and interpretative relationship with cinema.

The relationship between literature and cinema had been parasitical in the first phase, said Professor Anuradha Ghosh, who has co-edited an anthology, ‘Filming Fiction’ with M. Asaduddin, a professor of English at Jamia Millia Islamia.

"This (parasitical relationship) had occasioned the disdain of several writers like D.H. Lawrence, who considered it (cinema) a vulgar medium because it homogenized culture, E.M. Forster who had refused permission to film his novels for fear of falsification of the original content and Virginia Woolf who passionately affirmed the power of the figure of speech and uniqueness of literary experience over the limited objective of cinema," Ghosh said.

The experience of watching a film is different from watching a novel. While a novel is written by an individual as a vehicle of their subjective vision often with a slow build-up, the film is a mass and collaborative medium catering to the needs of a vast section of the audience thus entailing speed, visual impacts and economies of scale, the speakers said.

"For example, in the novels `Gone With The Wind` and `Pather Panchali`, novelists Margaret Mitchell and Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay respectively had to devote more than 100 pages to introduce the locale and characters, but the directors Victor Fleming and Satyajit Ray respectively had to wrap that up in 15 minutes," Anuradha Ghosh said, pointing out the differences.

Lending weight to the initiative of building new synergy between literature and cinema Saturday, Union Human Resource Minister Kapil Sibal released three braille books on cinema for the blind, ‘Cinema of Satyajit Ray’, ‘Balraj, My Friend’ and ‘Dada Saheb Phalke’ at the book fair.