Word to Screen Market: Bridging the gap between literature and cinema
As a land of storytellers, India has a rich literary tradition, but we haven’t explored it fully when it comes to turning these written words to celluloid. The Word to Screen Market by Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star strives to bridge this gap and create a meeting ground for literature and cinema. Last year saw the initiation of this Market, which witnessed a manifold growth this year. “It has grown much bigger this year, which is very heartening to see. I think the best place for literature to be alive is through cinema,” says Sonam Kapoor who is the Ambassador for the Word to Screen Market.
This year the Word to Screen Market, which was held on August 24, 2017 in Mumbai, was a standalone event and dedicated to establishing an in-depth dialogue between publishers/authors and filmmakers. The publishers/authors got a platform to pitch their stories that ranged from horror to fantasy to historical sagas and more. The Market also saw the presence of several noted names from the film fraternity including Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Ram Madhvani and Shakun Batra among others. The publishing industry was represented by renowned names like Penguin Random House, Duckbill Books, Harper Collins India, Juggernaut Books and many others. Also present for the event was the beloved literary figure C. S. Lakshmi or ‘Ambai’, as she is lovingly called.
Talking about the thought process behind this initiative, Kiran Rao, Festival Chairperson, Jio MAMI with Star said, “We wanted a more meaningful engagement that the film industry could have with the publishing industry. The idea developed because we felt that one of the biggest gaps that Indian filmmaking has is writing. Given that we have a rich tradition of publishing in India, where stories from different regions come up, we thought it would be of great value if content that was already out there could be made available to the cinema industry. The Word to Screen Market was conceived to get the two industries together. It is what we call a match-making venue where books and all kinds of writing could find a partner in cinema.”
Over the past year, the Market has gained strength and popularity. “There are many more people interested this year from both the industries. This year we went after the Market much more aggressively and systematically. Also, an interesting addition to our process was the Boot Camp we did in Delhi where publishers were taken through the realistic picture of adapting literature into cinema and dealing with the film community. This prepared them much better so we saw better pitches this time,” said Arpita Das (From Yoda Press) who is the Curator of the Market.
Getting the Market together has been a difficult task as Smriti Kiran, Creative Director, Jio MAMI with Star shared. “When we started this Market we knew that we are entering an arena that needs a lot of work.” Adding to this Smriti also explained one of the core objectives of this Market. “We wanted to investigate the reasons why this marriage between cinema and literature in our country has not happened, which is very normal in the West, where every second screenplay is an adaptation. Today, we are in a unique position, therefore, why not bring the two industries together. We decided to get a curator on board who doesn’t only get her or his knowledge on the table but also their goodwill.”
Smriti also spoke about the changes that the Word to Screen Market underwent. “In the first year, we had a modest beginning where we only had the MAMI recommend list. This year there is much more, we have meetings with detailed agendas, and there are one-on-one meetings. We have a massive list of recommendation and we have given content creators more to choose from.”
Another significant change that the Market witnessed this year was the introduction of the Boot Camp, which was designed to benefit publishers and help them understand the film industry better. “When we planned the Boot Camp, we wanted to do a lot of knowledge sessions where authors and publishers understand each aspect of adapting a book for the screen, which includes the business side as well. People from the industry too came and spoke to the publishing industry and in the coming year we will also have knowledge sessions where the publishers will share insights with the film industry,” added Smriti.
Converting books into films is a common practice in the West. And though there are some great examples here, the concept is not as widespread yet. Adaptations come with various benefits and elaborating on one of them is Shakun Batra. “A writer has already put in a couple of years into their writing material and if you connect with that material it is great. I love looking at other people’s stories and then visually taking that story to another place and level,” said the filmmaker. Highlighting the role that a Market like this plays, Shakun said, “I think there was a huge gap between authors/publishers and filmmakers and this Market fills that gap. In a place like this, you can find a story that you might want to say.”
Shedding some light on the doors that a Market like this will open to writers/publishers is Vishwajyoti Ghosh. “This Market opens up a new world for us. We might know some aspects of the industry, but how does a book translate into a film or what are the kind of stories that content creators are looking at is something that most of us are not aware of. This Market also opens up the possibility of extending the story and gives you a chance to look at your content in another way,” said the eminent author.
Adding to Ghosh’s point, Karthika VK who heads the newly established Amazon-Westland Publication said, “I think it is a big forum for expanding our understanding of what is going on in the film world because we don’t really know what is going on on this side of the industry. In the last few years, there has been a great deal of interest in terms of books as property. Today, there is a possibility of a book being developed into all sorts of audio visual forms including movies. This is a good platform for us to know what the content creators are looking for and to tell them what we are doing. Maybe, there is something that they never thought of which we could present to them. So, it is really a great meeting ground.”
The turnout this year was much higher as compared to the past year. One of the reasons for this was the conscious decision of taking the event beyond the MAMI Film Festival. “Last year, during the festival, we found that everybody has much less bandwidth to spend time and thus could not interact at a deeper level or take conversations a little further. Even for us, logistically it was a little hard. We ourselves are stretched and we couldn’t attend the entire Market. Since this event is something that wasn’t necessarily dependent on the festival, this is what is called a P2P event, we went ahead with a separate event. This allowed the two industries to be at leisure and have the kind of space and privacy to conduct conversations,” explained Kiran.
Sharing Kiran’s thoughts, Smriti added, “The reason we shifted the Market out of the festival was because we wanted to focus on the Market alone. We did not want the noise around the festival to drown the importance of the Market.” When quizzed about the future of the Market Smriti also said, “Now, we have opened the Market throughout the year because we feel that one day is not enough.”
But the Market is in its initial stages as Arpita explained. “We still have a long way to go and improve more, but it was still a massive improvement from last time.”
Giving insights on the next steps of the Market, Smriti added, “We want to make sure that it doesn’t end here. We aim to move from a Market to something like a Lab where you would actually start the process of adaptation. Maybe we haven’t got there yet, but the move is definitely in that direction. The move is towards having a platform that is live all through the year where both the industries can reach each other. We start with those baby steps and then grow to something bigger.”
Indian cinema is undergoing a change, making it the perfect good time for the Word to Screen Market to establish itself as Shakun points out. “I think Bollywood is in a transitional phase. We are bored of stories that we have been seeing and we need the change. There is a huge scope for new genres and stories that earlier would not get made into films.”
The atmosphere at the Market was filled with possibilities. “I think it is going to be a good mix of both the industries who would be merging content. It is going to be interesting to see how does this merger takes place and how we translate this into cinema or into a digital format,” Vishwajyoti said.
The future holds much hope where we wish to witness a new wave in cinema. “Hopefully we’ll have better films and web series and a more nuanced writing for cinema. I hope we have more variety in storytelling; more complex characters, more interesting situations and more risky narratives. I hope that is the future that the Word to Screen Market brings about,” concluded Kiran.