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The curious case of missing Hindi literature in Indian cinema

PTI | Mumbai | Updated: 13-09-2019 15:59 IST | Created: 13-09-2019 15:59 IST
The curious case of missing Hindi literature in Indian cinema

Is there a lack of pride in projecting Indian authors or have we accepted defeat, wonder writers and directors on the shrinking space for Hindi literature in Hindi cinema and shows. With streaming platforms bringing a content boom in the industry, there is a considerable buzz surrounding the adaptation of English language titles such as "Sacred Games", "Midnight's Children" and "The Zoya Factor" but Hindi and other languages are missing out.

This may have to do with a bias towards the language literature and in most cases simple ignorance on the part of content creators and producers, the writers and directors feel. Noted filmmaker Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who adapted "Chanakya" for Doordarshan during its golden age, and has brought to screen classic novels such as "Pinjar" and "Mohalla Assi", says Indian authors simply do not enjoy the popularity that their western counterparts do.

"Our literature is so vast but there is no sense of pride in projecting Indian authors. When people celebrate Hindi divas (September 14), I feel we have accepted defeat, it means Hindi is dying," he told PTI. Dwivedi, who is all set to direct a film for YashRaj on Prithviraj Chauhan with Akshay Kumar in the lead, also blames the media for the hype surrounding English titles, which is often missing for other language adaptations.

"Whenever there is a film, which is based on the literature of William Shakespeare, everyone writes about it, media writes more about it. But they are not aware of the Hindi or other Indian authors while reviewing a film based on their work," Dwivedi says. "There is a visible bias. We have never tried to take our Indian authors to the masses. How many people know M T Vasudev or Kashinath Singh? Shakespeare is known to everyone. Indian literature has been ignored," he adds.

In the past, literature and cinema had a close connection with several stories like "Teesri Kasam", "Saara Aakash", "Neem Ka Pedh" and "Shatranj Ke Khiladi" adapted from Hindi literature. Noted Hindi author and poet Uday Prakash says directors like Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy often turned to literature for their films, which are now considered classics.

"Cinema, in those days, lifted literature from oblivion... But uprooted commercialisation has reached a maddening status and people are just looking at the box office numbers. The moment films like 'Baahubali' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy' come people in Bollywood start rushing towards making films that can bring them money," the writer told PTI. It is not that literature is completely ignored in cinema but such films are not commercial potboilers, he adds.

"Anup Singh made 'Qissa', based on a folktale and then 'The Song of Scorpions'. One of the Marathi films last year was based on my short story 'The Walls of Delhi'. It is getting attention. It depends a lot on directors whether they can create a bridge between literature and cinema. But a time will come soon when there will be a buffer zone, where filmmakers will come back to literature," he says. Gaurav Solanki, co-writer of the critically-acclaimed "Article 15", believes Indian filmmakers are not exposed to Indian literature and that's why there are more English adaptations.

"There is more focus on English literature than Hindi because a lot of filmmakers do not read Indian language books. The fascination to adapt from English literature is quite new, there was a parallel cinema that adapted Indian literature. "Parallel cinema no longer exists today. We have mainstream or realistic or films that are rooted in socio-politics of India. We need content and we don't have scriptwriters and so with book adaptations, you have a story to pitch."

He says some studios have opened their doors and are looking at Hindi publishers. "A lot of Hindi and Urdu writers like Kamleshwar, Manohar Shyam Joshi were writing for films and TV while still writing their books.

"The publishers and literary writers should make an effort to bridge the gap. It will be better if we have literary writers, who work for films, TV and series. Publishers can pitch the content to creators," Solanki suggests. Dwivedi also hopes for a better future.

"In the post-independence era, we have had films like 'Do Bigha Zamin' based on Rabindranath Tagore's Bengali poem 'Dui Bigha Jomi' and several historical and mythological films that were inspired by ancient Indian literature. "Post the success of 'Baahubali', people are looking at history, I don't know what will happen to cinema in the next three-four years but because a lot of biographies and historical films are being made, people are trying to go back to their roots. I hope people look at the past," Dwivedi says.

Writer-director Raj Nidimoru, who had co-written "Stree" based on the Bangalore urban legend Nale Ba, agrees that Indian literature is missing from Hindi cinema. "There is a depth in our literature but unfortunately we seem to overlook it. It is time we start looking at literature and we have such great stories to tell. As we make more films and stories based on our literature, it will also encourage writers."

Writer-director Pradeep Sarkar, whose 2005 film "Parineeta" was an adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's famous novel, believes the film, starring Vidya Balan, Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt, was a critical and commercial success because the story was rooted in Indian ethos. "It was an era gone by. I lived that era through my family. So it was not alien to me. I did not fake anything, it was all real and rooted and people liked that," Sarkar says.

He believes one should opt for adaptation only when there is a clear understanding about the culture and the setting of the book. "Without understanding it, you can't do justice to the story. If you know the idiom, then it becomes easy. But if you do not know the basic 'sur' of the culture, then you will end up just copying. Copies don't really work."

The new generation of filmmakers is "fast-moving" but in the race to make "edgy films", something is being left behind, he adds. Award-winning actor Pankaj Tripathi is an ardent lover of the rich Indian literature and in interviews, he often mentions how literature helped shape the actor in him.

"I love literature. I like both world and Hindi literature like great Russian writers Maxim Gorky and Anton Chekhov and Hindi novelist Phanishwar Nath 'Renu' and Kedarnath Singh. It has subconsciously helped me in working and building my characters," Tripathi says.


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