Literature and cinema have shared a strong relationship since ages. From well before Devdas (1955) to 3 Idiots (2009), Bollywood has borrowed from literature. This relationship was further explored at the session ‘Re-examining the interface between literature and cinema and the adaptation of literary content for television, radio and digital platforms’, which was conducted at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2017. The session for which affluent names came on the panel, was moderated by Smriti Kiran who is a journalist, creative director, producer and author. She is also the Creative Director of MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, 2016 which explored a similar subject through ‘Word to Screen Market.

The diverse panel for the session consisted of Vikram Chandra, Arindam Sil, Anuj Bahri, Shaliesh Bharatwasi and Anu Choudhary, all of whom came together to create a meeting ground for literature and cinema. To get insights on the subject, we caught up with Smriti Kiran after the session who shared her thoughts with Pandolin. She spoke about the importance of a forum like this, the growing mediums and platforms. Topics like taking creative liberties and affect of adapting literature into mainstream Bollywood were discussed as well.

Smriti Kiran

Smriti Kiran

Why is the session titled ‘Re-examining the interface…’ and why not exploring the exchange between cinema and literature, what is the core idea behind the session?

The word ‘reexamining’ is just terminology; we basically wanted to discuss this relationship or interface between literature and cinema. The other thing that we discussed is that why we don’t have more platforms like these that give an opportunity for the two worlds to meet. The core idea behind the session was to discuss why the relationship between cinema and literature has been so clunky since start. It is not like people were not making films on literature before, but somehow it has not blossomed the way it has blossomed in the west. In the west you have a system in place, you’ve got agents, and you’ve got a lot of support. Here discoverability is a problem, how do you discover material, who is going to represent the author, are there enough literally agents. These were some of the questions that were addressed during the session.

There are so many mediums and opportunities today therefore, it is important to catch up; we need to catch up in terms of platforms and forums that bring all these worlds together. There are mediums everywhere but there are no bridges connecting it, there is no meeting point. When a meeting point between literature and cinema is created exchange will take place, once the exchange happen, the ecosystem will grow.

The ‘Word to Screen Market’ that took place in MAMI Film Festival, 2016 dealt with similar questions, so how important are these forms? How can they help the two industries?

The first thing beautiful about the session was the bunch of people that were chatting up on that panel. The reason that forums like these are needed is because the two industries get an opportunity to meet otherwise where is the meeting ground, and that is why we also had ‘Word to Screen Market’. Having a collective dialogue is necessary because until and unless that doesn’t happen you cannot have a system in place, a system that is universal and standardised where one can find content out of literature.

The important thing about being on this panel and meeting these wonderful people is that apart from the conversation we had, we all got connected. There were two authors, a screenwriter, one publisher, one literary agent and one filmmaker who had a lot to share. We had a similar kind of panel in the ‘Word to Screen Market’ in MAMI. The two industries need meeting opportunities where they can talk about the exchange that take place between literature and cinema.

With a wide variety of digital platforms growing every day, how will that affect literature?

There were discussion regarding the newer digital platforms that have come in like Netflix and Amazon. These platforms bring another kind of sensibility into the arena because they all have possibilities for development. People are reading manuscripts and books and scouting for content. They also allow a different kind of expression which is not restricted by censorship or any other factors. Therefore, the relationship between literature and cinema will alter because of these factors.

Smriti Kiran with the panel

Smriti Kiran with the panel

Interface between literature and radio is not widely known, can you elaborate a bit on that?

Radio is another platform that we spoke about because look at what Neelesh Misra is doing; look at the kind of content that they are producing. He is reading stories from all across India in his show on radio. Therefore, radio becomes another outlet. Since radio is another type of medium, it has its own language. Any kind of text that needs to be converted into a particular medium, in this case radio, has to follow the grammar that works in that system. Every world has its own syntax, its own grammar so radio becomes another opportunity. Similarly, audio books present another opportunity, so today there are many opportunities for content to be adapted.

Do you think that since movies are been adapted more into mainstream Bollywood movies, authors will change the way they write and do you think that it will be a positive change?

I feel as long as you are not altering your expression because writing is a very individualistic thing, if you are not altering your expression to suit another medium it is fine. My point is, if as a creator I decide to write a novel which I want to transfer into another medium then I might as well write a screenplay. If any authors are doing that I think those are individual choices and we can’t police them. But I think because these are such different mediums it is very important to be honest to each medium. The book doesn’t have to be a translation; if I am taking a book and making it into a movie I will take it above and beyond. There are so many aspects to this and I agree that it is an important question, but if people start to write like that, then it is their problem. I think in this case you cannot be honest to both the mediums.

Therefore, I think it is important to encourage exchanges between the two industries because a lot of stories can come out through such forms. It is mine field of content that is waiting to be discovered. Also, if things get transferred there are experts in that other medium who can enable that transferability so you don’t have to do their job. If I am an author let me remain an author, a screenwriter will come and adapt my book if they feel it is good enough.

Many a times while adapting books into film or TV series, a lot of creative liberties are taken, so how easy or difficult that is?

That completely depends on the relationship that you establish with the author. The filmmaker will have to be given a free hand in doing what they do because otherwise the adaptation will not belong to either the author or the filmmaker. And the best thing that an author can do is that while deciding to give the rights, they can try and give it to people that they can trust. If the author interferes too much then you’ll not be either in this world or that world. Therefore, regardless where the content is been taken whether it is the radio or TV or film, the makers should be given a certain amount of liberty to make it the way they feel it. So that creator needs to be given a plain field to do so. He or she needs to be allowed that flight otherwise it is not going to happen.

Smriti Kiran with the panel

Smriti Kiran with the panel

What do you think the audience will take-away from the session? 

I think the audience take-away from the session was getting to know that there is a gap in the relationship (of literature and cinema) which needs to be addressed. Other than that through the session they also could understand the creative issues that one can come across while adapting content from literature. It also made them aware about the lack of platforms where these two worlds can come together. This lack of exchange is one of the reasons that we do not see as many adaptations as the West sees. The audience had a lot of interesting questions to ask because people don’t know enough about the working of this interface.