Foreign Literature in India: When Foreign Literature works have been adapted for the Hindi Silver Screen.

From novel to screenplay, the adaptation of Literature to Film describes the central current in film history with filmmakers commonly turning to novels – the source of the novel, short story or play then been building for a visual medium for the consumer. Before cinema, novelist had adapted their works to theatre for a visual medium of the art work, later developing to celluloid, became the new source of entertainment – it began with the works of literature, known pieces of work that were later made to feature films. When adapting certain pieces of literature, its ideal for the filmmaker’s vision to paint the portrait according their vision of the novel while taking certain liberties as well as keeping the visuality of the film loyal to the written material.

In India, various novels, plays and other literary works have been adapted from Indian writers and literaturists – but we commonly forget the adapted works of foreign literature been attempted in India. Forgotten largely, could be due to exposure of the works been to the readers in the past or a possibility of culture clashes in the literature work and the cinemagoers of India – the possibility of a filmmaker’s fear of possible identification for the consumer of the written foreign material source.

Although, many filmmakers from India have found their methods of adapting for the Indian audience with choosing subjects that have a vast appeal. Writers such Shakespeare that have a vast appeal and works that continue to be relevant in any part of the world centuries later when being performed to the English-Play watchers.

Here are some of the works of Foreign Literature art that have been adapted for the Silver Indian Screen which many are unaware of and taking an insight how the films have adapted for India in with the filmmaker’s sensibilities intact and their interpretation of the literary work. Also, we have ruled out in this article the 101 adaptations of Romeo & Juliet in Hindi cinema! (We all know all of them!)

Bandish (1996) – Adapted from Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities

The Dicken’s quote ‘it was the best of times and the worse of times’ was applied in Prakash Jha’s earlier directorial venture Bandish which was adapted from the Dicken’s novel.  A Tale of Two Cities tells a story of three characters, Darnary, Lucie and Carton during the French Revolution where all three are stuck in unfortunate series of events between cities London and Paris. Darnay being a righteous man with his way of principals and Carton being the drunk, scrounger with the sharp lawful mind. Both men share an uncanny resemblance and both fall in love with Lucie. In Bandish, Jha made both characters played by Jackie Shroff – the village righteous man Ram Ghulam and the Bombay Street smart goon Kishen, who fall for the same girl. Jha changed the revolution to a modern grim Bombay setting, amongst a world of deception and crime. 

Jha’s simplification of the novel for his audience added the Indian commercial spice of conflicts between both Shroff’s characters and their triumph over Juhi Chawla’s character. The film gets short numbers right as the novel dealt with lost love and the ways of the cruel world taking advantage of situation – like Shroff’s play of Carton but the film itself seemed too lost in trying to keep both worlds or cities even, faithful and happy. An attempt at Commercial Hindi Cinema at the same time attempting to bring to life Dicken’s world. Jha’s adaption did not just bomb at the box office but was bashed for ‘dumbing down a Dicken’s novel’, it was Jha’s only and final attempt at ‘popcorn cinema’ later leading him to making issue-based films.

Banarasi Babu (1997) – Adapted from William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

David Dhawan meets Shakespeare with his favourite Govinda playing his leading thespian. Many may not remember this David Dhawan venture which was the team from Raja Babu (1994), including the producer, music directors, writers etc to adapt this Shakespearian work. The play was based on two sisters with the eldest, Katherine, being the ‘shrew’ in her towering personality and male repellent finds her suitor in a village bum, Petruccio, and despite having contrasting personalities both form chemistry. In Dhawan’s adaption, one of the two sisters is out and only Katherine is Indianzied as Rambha. Govinda being from the East (in a sense playing Raja Babu again) and wife (played by Rambha) from the West and how their contrasting personalities attempt to stay together after marriage and dealing with the dominating mother-in-law.

Nandu Tolani, had admitted that the film was an attempt to stay in the zone as their previous venture Raja Babu and had told the media “Its not a direct adaption. But have Indianized this subject as of today’s times”. Although with the right elements of being a commercial pot-boiler, failed to garner to an audience despite having the Govinda-Dhawan combination. Due to the film being delayed for years (Launched in 1994), by the time the film had released it had a stale look to the film.

Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966) – Adaption of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

Dilip Kumar known as the tragedy king had also been apart of one literature’s tragic lasting tales. Kumar not only starred in this literature classic but ghost directed it also, as Director Abdur Rashid Kardar suffered with ill health during the making of the film leading to Kumar participating in shooting several moments of the film without taking any credit from the direction department. The 1847 British classic novel by Emily Brontë, tells the unfortunate love story of two childhood friends and their life of sorrow from childhood to adulthood while growing up in the home ‘Wuthering Heights’. Here, Cathy and Heathcliff, played respectively by Dilip Kumar and Waheeda Rehman – who are pitted against several unfortunate circumstances in order to live their lasting desire of being together but going through a phase of guilt, ego and revenge.

This adaption sure does stay faithful to the novel but only to an extent. As Brontë’s novel,  quite complex , lasting saga with several characters, here Abdur Rashid Kardar takes out a large sum of the plot out and choose to stick the focus on the lead protagonists. Wuthering Heights is known as one of the greatest tragedies in literature – Kardar’s adaption is somewhat, happier. Kardar’s twist on the novel takes out the explicit, dark detail in order to make it more cinematic friendly. Dil Diya Dard Liya is a good example of simplifying, hedging-cutting filmmaking adaption of a romanticism novel.

Jaanwar (1999) – Adapted from George Eliot’s Silas Marner

The Darshan Brothers (Suneel and Dharmesh) known for their commercial family orientated dramas, Suneel peculiarly chose George Eliot’s English tragic works to adapt for the Indian screen.  Silas Marner tells the story about a man who is wrongly convicted of robbery later lives his life in gloom until he when he comes across a 2 year old orphan child that wonders into his home. Marner then takes responsibility of raising the child. Years later, when the child grows older – Marner and the child form a parent-child relationship but matters change when the parents of the child begin to search their long-lost child.

The Darshan took a slight modern spin with Jaanwar with the story of a gangster (played by Akshay Kumar) leaves the world of crime and raise a child he finds– mending his way but his past and the parents of the child (played by Shilpa Shetty and Mohnish Behl) begin to plea Kumar to give their child back. Both novel and film set in different eras and geographic setting – and of course the levels of drama being a level notch higher, the film’s core relying on the man and child’s relationship. Jaanwar connected with the Indian audience at the time of release and was known as a revival of Akshay Kumar’ s crumbling career.

Shalimar (1978) – Adapted from The Vulture Is a Patient Bird

James Hadley Chase, known for his famous crime novels – published this novel in 1971 and the rights were later acquired by Indian Hollywood television director Krishna Shah in 1976 for his adaption of the novel Shalimar. Although officially adapted, many had labelled Shalimar as an ‘inspired by’ as both the novel and film follow different narratives. The novel’s protagonist is the millionaire guarding a poison ring and in Shalimar, the narrative is told in the perspective of the thief. The film’s protagonist (Played by Dharmendra), was hardly existent in the novel and the film’s narrative is follows his journey from escape to reaching the island later leading to the plot revolving the Shalimar Stone.

Shalimar was simultaneously shot in English and Hindi, the film was a Hollywood-Bollywood co-production with major stars as the likes of Rex Harrision, John Saxon, Sylvia Miles to Dharmendra, Zeenat Aman and Shammi Kapoor all sharing screen space. Both versions were slightly different (The English version was songless and cut slightly differently) but both films in both markets did not find an audience at the time. Shalimar over the years had found a cult following and marked as an ‘advanced thrillers’ from Hindi Cinema.

Aisha (2010) – Adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma

This Jane Austen novel has been adapted several times in the West, but this interesting attempt in the East – based in Delhi amongst the Elite Class, set amongst the modern-day social media world did not exactly find strike with the audience at the time. Emma tells the story of a lady trying to play cupid and leading to making love stories work to her accord without her realising the emotions she is toying with, leading her getting tangled in her own mess. A strong headed Emma, yet confused only makes her own love life illusional while playing matchmaker to others.

This Sonam Kapoor starrer, attempt was to be fresh and appealing for the younger audience, did not find much of an appeal when released in 2010. Director Rajshree Ojha’s intention was to retell Austen’s story as a modern in a ‘click-flick template’, but many had pointed it was rather Producer Anil Kapoor’s purpose was of making his daughter central.

Saawariya (2007) – Adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s White Nights

This short story by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, originally published in 1848 deals with a story of a nameless narrator who suffers from loneliness – who befriends everyone in the hope to battle with his hidden feelings. His loneliness being almost like his illness, attempting to find his cure in the streets of St. Petersburg. The story takes places over four nights and then the following morning, over the four nights the narrator falls in love with a young woman who is wanting to be reunited with her lover.

White Nights are days without any darkness which Bhansali had identified with from his childhood but in Bhansali’s Indian take on the Russian short story the Indian audience found a little hard digest not knowing or ever seeing what a White Night is – and just to add to the confusion for the Indian audience, the snowy and make-believe areas which have a Russian context with Hindi speaking characters didn’t go down well with the audience of India. Bhansali’s attempt of this imaginative world suffered losses at the box office, with Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor’s debut venture proving to be disastrous.

Tere Mere Sapne (1971) – Adapted from The Citadel

This Dev Anand-Vijay Anand venture, which both starred in together was adapted from one of the greatest English Novels about the English Health System prior to the English National Health Service, a journey of a doctor’s discovery of medicine and idealism to help the less fortunate and poor, later leading his ways to believing the ways of the world and the fortune made in the health sector – leading to him losing his morals to capitalism. The battle of medicine and the idealism of general practice to the idea of curing the wealthy leads the doctor’s principals changing.

This Navketan production did not work wonders as expectations from the brother duo. Expectations was raised exceedingly high post their evergreen Guide (1965), critics at the time found the film too lengthy and pitted against earlier production touting it as ‘this is no Guide’. Tere Mere Sapne was touted as a dud but both Anand brothers in later years had often mentioned it was one of their proudest films from the production house and how it was overlooked looked at the time of the release. Tere Mere Sapne recently was analysed by Hollywood Critic, Bregman, and mentioned how the film followed a ‘distinctive narrative within not barring to Indian Cinema norms. Subtle without the contrast of gloss or glory. The film remains true painting the picture of the characters as similar to the novel.’

Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare Trilogy – Maqbool (2003), Omkara (2006) and Haider (2014)

Bhardwaj’s infamous trilogy of adaptions of the ‘father of English Literature’, William Shakespeare’s three plays Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet – adapted and tailored for the Indian audience. All three plays dealt with particular themes – Macbeth is about Power, Othello is about Jealously and Hamlet is about Revenge, Bhardwaj had taken Shakespeare’s stories and their battling themes and based them in modern Indian. Maqbool, Bhardwaj’s second directorial venture takes Macbeth to the Mumbai Underworld, the reach of greed and power drives its characters to destruction.

Omkara, with the backdrop of Uttar Pradesh politics, a jealous lieutenant’s extremes of bringing down his leader’s power after a wrong decision. Haider, set in the midst of the Kashmir political situation and the missing fathers of Kashmir – a boy’s journey to avenge his father’s death from his uncle.

All three were adapted with the current on-going political and social environment in India at the same making them more digestible for the Indian audience. Bhardwaj casted some of the best actors and the biggest stars in his adaptions, with reaching a wider audience at the same time gaining recognition as modern-day adaptions of the Shakespearian work. As to be believe, Bhardwaj had announced he was next to adapt Twelfth Night in order to continue his Shakespeare series.

Lootera (2013) – Adapted from O’Henry’s The Last Leaf

This Phantom produced adaption of O.Henry’s short story about an unsuccessful artist and an ailing woman during a pneumonia epidemic. This Vikram Aditya Motwane venture is loosely based on the O.Henry short story, the narrative of the short story takes more into practice in the second act of the film. Lootera is a story of a young conman posing as an archaeologist with a hidden talent of art, and the daughter of a Bengali landowner who shares the same passion – their passion leading to loveand a tragedy in the couple’s saga.

When released, the film was divided between opinions as many didn’t expect the film to be a tragedy. Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh both newly in the industry and known for their commercial images (especially with Sinha’s baggage at the time) – the audience didn’t quite expect this from the lead couple and many had even skipped the viewing in theatres at the time. Over time, and with Ranveer Singh’s later stardom – the film has a cult following and given a ‘delayed success’ title as it found an audience and appreciation much after its release.

Angoor (1982) – Adapted of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors

This Shakespeare farcical comedy has been made in various different forms in India but it was Gulzar’s adaptation of the play that remained as one of the very many that is still remembered. Gulzar usual genre being the realistic, often issue-based films suddenly took a turn to comedy with The Comedy of Errors and casting Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma as the master and slave, twice. Based on a day of mistaken identity of two sets of twins, this story of errors and confusion with both twins trading places resulting to two sets of twin reuniting before causing a day of havoc.

Angoor was widely appreciated and worked amongst the audience for a being a subtle, real and humorous take on play in contemporary day set in India. The play was adapted years later in Punjabi with Double Di Trouble, Sajid Khan’s Humshakals and now currently, Rohit Shetty is remaking Angoor with Ranveer Singh and Varun Sharma in Cirkus.

Fitoor (2016) – Adaption of Great Expectations

This Charles Dicken’s novel has had many versions in various different styles, from gothic dark to a gloss city setting when been adapted previously before Abhishek Kapoor’s adaption. This adaption is set with the backdrop of Kashmir packaged in a romanticism format. The Victorian novel is a coming-of-age story of Pip, an adopted orphan in a quest to find love and a social status but only to receive disappointments and a heartbreak throughout his journey from childhood to youth. Great Expectations a saga of continuous displeasure of the central character, is a Dicken’s anecdote of lasting hope in a callous world.

Fitoor, was India’s first attempt at the Dicken’s novel with a hunky Aditya Roy Kapoor and mesmerising Katrina Kaif fitting the bill of Pip and Estella. On release, Fitoor proved dismal and went on to become one of the biggest box office disasters in recent times. Many argued it was due to the ambitious, non-recoverable budget but many critics, who are familiar with Dicken’s novel mentioned how Kapoor’s adaption takes on a different stride from the novel and builds on a somewhat strange ‘twist’ that results various unanswered questions. Also saying that Kapoor’s version was neither faithful nor soulful as an adaption to the original Dicken’s classic.

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