The Word to Screen Market at the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star started with the ‘Writes, Shoots and Screen’ session. A panel comprising eminent names like Vishal Bhardwaj, Abhishek Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Jabeen Merchant and curator Arpita Das discussed the various opportunities and challenges of adapting content in the form of published books for the screen via cinema, TV and digital.

(L-R) Sonam Kapoor, abhishek Kapoor and Vishal Bhardwaj

(L-R) Sonam Kapoor, Abhishek Kapoor and Vishal Bhardwaj

Vishal Bhardwaj and Abhishek Kapoor

In the process of transforming a book into a cinematic format, how do you prevent the story from getting diluted?

Vishal: Cinema has its own language, which goes beyond the writer’s personality. At times, what an author is expressing in 50 pages can be conveyed through just one look in a film. When we are adapting for cinema we have to give some leverage to the director and writer of this medium. Personally, I like to remain faithful to the spirit of the material rather than the text.

Abhishek: As a filmmaker I am not competing with any book or author, regardless of it being a classic novel or a contemporary one. I want to engage the audience in the story. Though I have adapted a classic book, the emotions remain relevant even today. So though Great Expectations is set way back in time, there is an undercurrent theme that is timeless.

When you are adapting books or stories of authors that are alive, do you feel hesitant to take creative liberty?

Vishal: I’ve adapted two of Ruskin Bond’s story. One was Susanna’s Seven Husbands for 7 Khoon Maaf and The Blue Umbrella. While making The Blue Umbrella, I was stuck because the second act was missing in the novel. So we thought of creating the second act but I was apprehensive about what Ruskin Sir would say. But when I approached him, he was very happy about it. I think that is because I was honest to the spirit of the story. If the screenwriter faces restriction by the original author, then the story will not be able to take flight.

Abhishek: While adapting a book all I can do is request the author to trust me with it, but after that there will be certain calls that the director and scriptwriter take in order to adapt the story cinematically.

Sonam Kapoor

When you are playing a character that is inspired by a book, does it make the job easier or tougher?

It is daunting to play any character, whether it is from a screenplay or a book. For an actor whether the character is adapted from a book or is from an original screenplay, it is all the same. It could be slightly easier in the case of a book adaptation because you already have the backstory of the character, but ultimately it is all about how you adapt it for your role.

Jabeen Merchant

Did you notice any predominant genres or themes that were prominent in the entries? 

We did not want to limit the writers so there were no specific genres or themes. The range of entries had a wide variety, but we did receive a large amount of mystery and suspense thrillers. Other than there was a very interesting love story which is also a ghost story. Historical fiction was another genre that the writers explored.