Movies, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I recently got a piece of advice that I should try and not become like the person in the picture above. I think the advice was kindly meant and advised me to avoid becoming the slapper, not the slapee. Keeping aside the fact that I’m non-violent and have slapped no one in my life, I also have no locus to slap anyone for this. I love movies. Totally love them! Of the three Cs people talk about that Indian people have in their blood – cricket, cinema and corruption – I have only the middle one. I love to watch movies – good movies, trashy movies, movies I understand, movies I’ll spend a lifetime trying to understand, movies with subtitles, musicals, give me any movie and I will watch it(subject to just exceptions of course!).

My love for reading and cinema coincides in the best way possible – biographies of actors, behind-the-scenes books of famous movies and movies adapted from books. It’s the last category I love the most. You tell me someone is making a movie based on a book and I’ll be the first one to buy the book. If I’ve already read the book, then I’ll do a quick re-read just before watching the movie. I’m often asked why I do that; my answer to that is why wouldn’t you do that, it’s so much fun. I mean when you’re reading the book you imagine the scenes and the characters in a certain way, and while watching the movie you get to see someone else’s imagination of it translate on the screen. It’s the best kind of entertainment.

Having said that, a lot of times movies based on books don’t do justice to the book and leave you wanting more. When I say this, I’m not talking about Chetan Bhagat books and movies based on them, where both the books and movies leave you wanting more. I’m talking about movies where the director has so much good material to create with and they come up with a floozy (eg. Bride and Prejudice – I’ll never forgive Gurinder Chadha for ruining my favourite book).

But on the side of the spectrum, there movies not only do justice to the books they are adapted from, but celebrate them. These movies make you want to go back to the book and read and re-read it. They give the authors of the books from which they are adapted a reason to dance with joy. Today I will tell you about some of these movies which are my favourites. Let’s go

Maqbool (2003), Omkara (2006), Haidar (2014) – Vishal Bhardwaj

If anyone deserves to be on the top of this list, it has to Vishal Bhardwaj for his trilogy based on Shakespearean tragedies (Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet). It takes a special sort of brilliance to take three plays written by an Englishman located in Scotland, Venice and Denmark and place them in the mafia ridden neighbourhoods of Bombay, the badlands of Eastern UP and terrorism stricken Kashmir valley. All three movies have stellar casts with some of the best actors of our time. It is to VB’s credit that extracts fabulous performances from these actors, especially Irfan Khan and Tabu shine brighter than stars. If there are any 3 movies you have to watch from this entire list, then watch this trilogy, but if there is only 1 movie you have time for, then make time for Maqbool. It’s a haunting masterpiece which deserves all the praise it gets. I have provided links for the original screenplays of the three movies in case you would like to read them. TBH, I enjoyed even the screenplays!

Now, I wasn’t a ICSE student so Shakespeare’s plays were not a mandatory part of my English Curriculum. As a child, I read the abridged versions created for children and later graduated to reading the plays in Modern English. Honestly, I never enjoyed reading the plays in original so if there is beauty in Shakespearean English, it’s lost on me. But one can’t deny, no one does tragedy like Shakespeare!

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Masoom (1983) – Shekhar Kapur

Not to be confused with a different Masoom (1986), this one directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Nasiruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, a young Urmila Matondkar and an even younger baby-faced Jugal Hansraj is a hidden gem. I don’t know how many of you know this, but this movie is based on the lesser-known novel of Erich Segal – Man, Woman and Child. The author is better known for his other book Love Story, but the Hindi movie based on that (Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se) is quite forgettable. Coming back to Masoom, I cannot point to a single thing wrong in this movie. It is a touching movie about human relationships and families, with subtle performances and heartbreakingly beautiful songs. I dare you to remain dry-eyed when the song Tujhse Naraaz Nahi Zindagi is playing on the screen. I tear up every time.

Our good old Hollywood also attempted a movie on this book, but Masoom is hands down a much, much better movie. If you ask me skip the book as well as the English movie and stick to the one we made.

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Parineeta (1953/2005) – Bimal Roy/ Pradeep Sarkar

Written by Bengali writer Sarat Chandra ChattopadhyayParineeta often gets overlooked for its more famous cousin, Devdas. Novels by the same author, both Parineeta and Devdas have been adapted for the screen more than once. I decided not to include Devdas in this list because IMHO once Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s artistic sensibilities come into the picture, there is not much one can say about the story. Anyway, it is Parineeta which is my recommendation and that too both the 1953 and the 2005 version. People my age are well acquainted with the Saif Ali Khan-Vidya Balan version, but it is the B&W version which has a special place in my heart. If you can only picture Ashok Kumar as a genial uncle/grandfather, then you need to watch this movie; watch him be the brooding hero as he romances an ethereal Meena Kumari.

I can’t read Bengali, so I’ve read a translation of this novel in English. While the flavour may have got lost in the translation, the essence comes through. But I guess, you can skip the book if you can’t read the original in Bengali. Instead, watch both movies – you’ll thank me for it!

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Lootera (2013) – Vikramaditya Motwane

There are movies you watch and forget even before you have exited the theatre (case in point Akshay Kumar movies). There are movies which stay with you for a few days after you’ve watched them. And then there are movies which stay with you for a long time afterwards. You remember scenes from the movies, hum the songs for days and then wait eagerly for the movie to be aired on TV so that you could watch it again. Lootera is one such movie. Partly based on a story by O. Henry – The Last Leaf – the movie has stunning cinematography, melodious songs and excellent performances by Ranvir Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. I’m a romantic at heart – give me a story with this much heart, I’m sold. I’ll be honest, I did weep like a baby when the movie ended, but I ask you what’s the point of watching a good movie if it doesn’t let you sob your heart out.

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Raincoat (2004) – Rituparno Ghosh

It seems Indian directors like to turn to O. Henry whenever they need a nice, touching love story. Like The Last Leaf, The Gift of the Magi was also a part of my English curriculum, which is why I read the stories first as a teenager. Since then I’ve read them many times over and love their simplicity. The Gift of the Magi is the story of a husband who for Christmas buys combs for his wife because she has beuatiful hair. The wife buys a gift for her husband as well, a watch chain for a watch he owns and wears. It is only when they exchange gifts on Christmas Eve that they realise that the husband has sold his watch and the wife cut off her hair only to buy the gift for the other person. How sweet is that! Sob!

Raincoat is a movie which befits the beauty and simplicity of this story. In understated performances, Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai play former lovers who part and meet after many years on a rainy afternoon. When they see the other’s suffering, they both try to give the other a “gift” to help them out, without realizing that they are both making a sacrifice for the other person. Shantanu Moitra’s music is brilliant, and Gulzar Saab’s lyrics add richness and depth to the songs. After all these years, even now whenever I hear the song “Piya Tora Kaisa Abhimaan” sung by Shubha Mudgal, I get goosebumps. Don’t miss it!

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Sahib, Bibi aur Gulam (1962) – Abrar Alvi

People remember only two things about this movie – Meena Kumari staggering around the room in a drunken stupor and the song “Na Jao Saiyaan”. Sad! Because this movie is about so much more than that – it raises pertinent questions about patriarchy, the institution of marriage and the status of women in the society and the family. It depicts the sense of desperation that women of that time experienced when they were abandoned, ignored or misunderstood by their families. The movies is about finding friendships in the most unusual places – a zamindar’s biwi (wife) befriending the gulam (servant of the house) – and of realising that when it comes sadness, no one is superior or inferior. If you haven’t watched it, then do yourself a favour and watch it ASAP. I have watched this movie so many times I have lost count, and yet, I find something delightful with every viewing.

Since the book by Bimal Mitra is in Bengali, I’ve read a translation which I’m pretty sure didn’t do justice to the book. The original screenplay of the movie (link below) reads better and includes some rare photographs from the set. If you’re a collector of books on cinema, then you want this one in your collection.

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Below I have listed out a few other movies which are based on books. These are those movies where I’ve only seen the movie and not read the corresponding book. But just look at the list of authors below and tell me is there any doubt that these books would be brilliant too. No sir, no doubt at all!

  • Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977) (Director: Satyajit Ray) based on a short story of the same name by Munshi Premchand.
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  • Junoon (1978) (Director: Shyam Benegal) based on a Ruskin Bond story by the name “A Flight of the Pigeons”.
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  • Pinjar (2003) (Director: Chandraprakash Dwivedi) based on a Punjabi novel of the same name by Amrita Pritam.
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  • The Blue Umbrella (2005) (Director: Vishal Bharadwaj) based on a novel of the same name by Ruskin Bond.
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  • Guide (1965) (Director: Vijay Anand) based on a novel of the same name by R.K. Narayan
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I hope you enjoyed my round-up of my favourite movies adapted from books. I would love to know if there are any I have missed, so write to me. What I’m looking forward to is Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of Agatha Christie mysteries. Now that’s my idea of heaven. Yum!

~P

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Harsh Jain says:

    Nice post! Enjoyed reading it.

    Are there any instances, where you felt that the movie was better than the book? At the risk of raising the ire of many fans, to me, that would be Lord of the Rings. I did like the books, but found them a little dense/tough to get through at places. On the other hand, I found the movies to be spectacular.

    Also, do a post on books and web/tv series sometime 🙂

    Hope you are doing well otherwise!

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    1. Pallavi Mohan says:

      It’s good to hear from you Harsh. I’m one of those few who haven’t read or watched the LOTR series. It’s one of those things you keep meaning to do but never end up doing. Most of the movies in my list are brilliant as stand-alone pieces but Masoom is definitely better than Erich Segal’s book.

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    2. Pallavi Mohan says:

      Also, there are so many books to tv/movie/web English adaptations that it would be difficult to pick favourites. Send the names of some of your favourites. If they coincide with mine, I’ll write about them 🙂

      Like

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