Book vs Cinematic Adaptations

Posted: April 25, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Extracted from Translator’s Note: Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Much has been said about cinematic adaptations of novels and short stories. Ever since the dawn of cinema, man has been telling stories in a visual form. Through cinema, a filmmaker can express a story in his own way, in a manner not much different from that of an author’s, who writes such a story. However, there is one quintessential difference between he way an author tells a story and that which a filmmaker employs to tell his story. An author writes words on a paper, and the reader pretty much reads off a paper. The author’s message, his description of a scene, his portrayal of a character, the details of a conversation – all of these are, and quite often, I might add, inadequate, as it were. The author describes some of it, with a certain amount of detail. The rest is a projection of the reader’s own interpretation and imagination. This is not true in case of cinema. An example is in order here. Let’s say an author wants to introduce a character. He will probably write about the character’s age, her appearance, her physical features, her attire, her mood or mental state during the time of the introduction and so on and so forth.

Charulata - a sketch by Satyajit Ray

Charulata – a sketch by Satyajit Ray

The author uses his own imagination to describe the character, but the reader projects his own imagination in creating a mental picture of the character while reading the story. It is quite possible that one reader’s projection is entirely different from that of another, and both their projections are different from how the author imagined the character to be. Why does this happen? Because it is not possible to describe the character to such a level that her portrayal is exactly the same in the minds of all readers. Is this an impediment to storytelling? Of course not, because in any art form (including cinema), it is the interpretation that the receiver enjoys the most.

When a Fimmaker changes, adds, deletes, or in any way modifies certain aspects of a story or text that he chooses to adapt, he does so with an inherent belief that it will make better cinema. He does this, because he is aware that these are totally different media, and they need to be handled in their own ways. I am quite certain that if an author were to adapt an original movie into a short story or a novel, he would do the same.

An example of Book Character vs Cinema Character

Two characters in a short story are having an intense conversation. The focus is on the words they are using and the meaning of those words. The focus is also on their emotions, running high. One says something, the other responds. There’s an argument, or a deep expression of love, or anger. But take a step back and wonder – is the focus on the conversation itself , or on the room where this conversation is taking place? In all likelihood, the room has not even been described. It is not important. What is important is the conversation. And the author pours all his efforts in describing the conversation with his beautiful choice of words. This is not true in a visual medium of storytelling like cinema. No matter how important a conversation is, the filmmaker still has to show the colour of the walls of the room.  He has to show what items are kept on the nearby table. He has to show whether the windows are open or shut. In the previous example, the filmmaker does not have the luxury to leave the character’s description to the imagination of his audience. He has to show a person, her build, her age, her attire, her mental state of mind. His art is, in some sense, that of a more specific projection. And in that sense, telling a story in a cinematic medium  is quite different from telling a story through the pages of a book. Both have their own challenges, both present difficulties of varying nature in front of their creators. And what works in one medium may not work in the other.

Satyajit Ray as Film maker

Satyajit Ray on one of his film sets

About 14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray

14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray covers the stories written by India’s known authors, which Ray adapted into his films. It is an experience that keeps you on seat’s edge while you keep comparing the book story with film story. However, Satyajit Ray was one filmmaker who did invariably good job at capturing these stories.


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