Saturday, August 07, 2010

Literary, shmiterary

Fresh’ is a catch-all term used in Bollywood. It will describe a production with two unknown faces or even a storyline that is borderline predictable. However, one look at the trailer of Aisha and the word ‘fresh’ doesn’t seem out of place to describe this Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol starrer, set for an August release.

What really sets Aisha apart from the usual crop of Hindi cinema is that it is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. A faithful adaptation, one hastens to say, given Victorian elements such as Abhay Deol playing polo and the leading woman being a personification of chastity. Sadly, history is not on the side of Aisha.

Bollywood’s tryst with classic English literature hasn’t exactly set the box office on fire. Apart from Vishal Bhardwaj, who has successfully adapted Shakespeare’s plays to build an enviable oeuvre, Hindi film directors have never taken more than a passing interest in the world of Charles Dickens or Somerset Maugham. Take a look at the handful of movies inspired by books written in the 19th century and it is a classic embodiment of the expression, “many a slip between cup and the lip”.

Saawariya, Bhansali’s dark love story, was adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short story White Nights. Apart from introducing talents like Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, the 2007 Diwali release fizzled out like a wet cracker.

Something similar happened to Gurinder Chadha, who, fresh from the success of Bend It Like Beckham, tried to adapt Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The end product, Bride and Prejudice, turned out to be a turkey (imagine Sooraj Barjatya directing a P G Wodehouse book). Minor digression: The best adaptation of a Jane Austen book in Indian cinema was done by Rajiv Menon in his directorial debut, the Tamil film Kandukondain Kandukondain, which remained quite faithful to the gravitas of Sense and Sensibility.

For reasons beyond my understanding, Hindi cinema has been content with making films from contemporary books that are middling at best. Erich Segal’s Love Story comes across as the apogee of the protagonist’s reading habits (Ranbir Kapoor holding a Haruki Murakami in Wake Up Sid was an aberration). Hrithik Roshan and Rani Mukherjee bond over mawkish prose in Mujhse Dosti Karoge and somehow the sentiment continues to endure till date with Sonam Kapoor expressing her romantic predilections while hugging Love Story in this week’s release I Hate Luv Storys (sic).

Technically speaking, Love Story has been adapted twice in Bollywood cinema — Akhiyon Ke Jharoke Se starring Sachin and Ranjita, and Khwahish, which gave a carte blanche to Mallika Sherawat and Himanshu to pass-the-polo-mint at least 17 times on screen. Judging by their failure, love means never having to say sorry, especially to the audience.

Erich Segal’s Man, Woman And Child saw itself unfold on Hindi screen in the form of Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom and enjoyed quite a bit of success too. No writer, however, held or holds as much sway over the country’s consciousness like Chetan Bhagat. His One Night @ The Call Centre, which was made into Hello, which didn’t help the limpid careers of the lead actors like Sharman Joshi, Gul Panag and Sohail Khan in any way. But Rajkumar Hirani’s Aamir Khan-starrer 3 Idiots, which was ‘inspired’ from Five Point Someone, has achieved cult status. But then all these books are contemporary.

Since Sonam Kapoor has already tasted failure with Saawariya, one would expect her to exercise caution with Aisha, which happens to be her home production. For all you know, Aisha: the movie might be all strip and no tease. However, if the movie bucks the unfortunate trend, who knows the Bollywood audience might be introduced to Dickens or get first-hand knowledge of Kafka.


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Manasa said...

And to think that Jane Austen's books make such perfect story lines for bollywood. Especially because of the great Indian wedding scenario.It is such a pity. And Erich Segal is one of the most clichéd of the clichéd authors.He is like Chetan Bhagat's western counterpart. Pshaw! But Masoom was nicely adapted. Better than the book , a huge amount does depend on the actors and Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi did a good job. And the lyrics in that movie are so delicate and poignant.


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