A few months ago I had written a blog post Patriotism and Bollywood, which mentioned the movie Raazi. After the post, a friend messaged me recommending me to read the book“Calling Sehmat” which was the basis for the movie Raazi. Her argument for recommending this book was that it gave Sehmat a background story as well as an insight into what Sehmat thought and felt. That message left me thinking about how we look at movies when we have already read the book on which the movie is based.
“Not as good as the book”, is something which fellow bibliophiles and I have said quite often when we watch the print to the screen versions. Though books and movie are both visual the approach of both is different. Books are written words, the author chooses those words which the author feels will convey the author ’s imagination to the reader. The reader on reading the words interprets them in an image, usually a little bit different than what the author had imagined. Movies, on the other hand, show us pictures ( that’s why they are called motion pictures), it is the director’s interpretation of the screenplay. The actors show us real emotions rather than we imagining the exclamation marks.
Books versus movies have supporters on both sides. When a book is written it is the work of the author’s imagination, the editor’s hard work and the marketing of the publisher. When a movie is made there is the whole team of director, actors, screenwriter, costume designers, technicians etc behind it. With such a huge number of people involved, even a simple book gets a larger, grander scale. When you read about Scarlett O’Hara walking down the staircase, you use your imagination as to what she would look like. When you see the movie, however, Scarlett gets personified as Vivian Leigh. Now, there is no need to imagine as you can watch Scarlett/Vivian sweep down in the staircase in her red gown. If you try and read Gone With the Wind again after watching the movie, try as hard as you may, you will keep seeing Vivian as Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett Buttler. After watching the Harry Potter movies, I could not imagine anyone else but Daniel Radcliff as Harry. This is true for most of the book to screen movies, once you watch a movie, the movie overwhelms your imagination and you recall the movie when re-reading the book. Purists might say what is the point of reading a book if all the imagination has already been done for you. It, however, can act as a boon in certain cases, Harry Potter for instance. Hogwarts is a magical castle, we all have read that, but the magic of Hogwarts on screen, with its turrets, staircases, paintings, nooks and crannies comes alive when we watch it on the screen. The screen also makes the world of make-believe real, thus the desperate state of affairs in Charlie’s house (from Charlie and the Chocolate factory) also hits you harder when you see it on screen than when you read it.
The biggest complaint of book lovers when they watch their beloved books on screen is that sometimes the story does not go “By the book”(excuse the pun). The movie which is the perfect example of this complaint is “The Hobbit”. A slim book of about 351 pages, it has been directed into three two hour movies. Talk about running off with a tale! The fact that the movie doesn’t have to do much with the book is pretty apparent from the above fact. It is the same with the Fantastic Beasts’ movie series. What started off as a slim spin-off booklet from the Harry Potter series is now a movie franchise with two movies already out and two more in the works. The movies have very few characters in common with the Harry Potter series but such is the Harry Potter mania that the movies are blockbusters even before releasing.
One very big advantage movies have over the books is the mass appeal of the movies. Movies being a vibrant and visually appealing medium reach to a much larger audience than books. I am quite sure that the number of people who have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy is much more than the number of people who have read it, most of the people will be put off by its size itself! In some cases, it is definitely easier to watch than read, for instance, the Game of Thrones series. With the multitude of characters and storylines, it was much easier to watch it than read it! There is a flip side as well to this, people might watch a movie and assume the movie to be the true story even though the end might be different than in the book. Look no further than the movie Frozen, the movie is very different from the original of Hans Christan Anderson.
The fact remains that books provide a gold mine of stories to be adapted into movies or series. Even Bollywood, not the most cerebral of the mediums, has started looking towards books for stories like in Padman, Two States, Raazi. They have even managed to stick to the basic story despite inserting song and dance sequence to give them mass appeal.
The sad reality, however, is that in this day and age of limited attention spans, people prefer watching than reading. Thus the number of people who watched the movie “Theory of Everything” will be more than the number of people who read the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking.
Who knows even this post might go down unread as it is too long!