Book adaptations always walk on thin ice. Filmmakers have to satisfy the diverse fandom of the books they choose to adapt, make it accessible enough to be appreciated by the general audience and moreover, artistically satisfy themselves. Director Denis Villeneuve, during an interview for the film Dune: Part One, said that he made the film to satisfy only one member of the audience: his 13-year-old self (his age when he first read the Dune novels).
The Kannada milieu has a rich literary history. Till date, eight writers from Karnataka have won the Jnanpith Award, the highest literary honour awarded by the Government of India. Many filmmakers have turned to literature and have created amazing pieces of art. On the heels of Shashank Soghal’s Daredevil Mustafa, an adaptation of author KP Poornachandra Tejaswi’s short story of the same name, we look at 8 great novel adaptations in Kannada cinema. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a list of great adaptations.
Let us begin with the last adaptation of a Poornachandra Tejaswi short story. Directed by Sumana Kittoor, Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu was adapted to the screen by noted writer/journalist Agni Sridhar. The story is set in a fictional village called Kiraguru, at a time when a raging storm has turned the village upside down. The women of Kiraguru are strong, both physically as they are seen doing all the agricultural work, as well as mentally. They stand up for what is right and do not hide their anger and emotions. The men are weaker, lazy and all talk. They fall for random predictions by the faux fortune teller of the town, causing a rift between themselves, all while virtue signalling and taking important decisions. When the women get tired of their incompetence and hypocrisy, they stage a revolt as rageful as the storm.
The ensemble cast of Shwetha Srivastav, Karunya Ram, Kishore, Achyuth Kumar, Sukrutha Waghle and Sharath Lohitashwa deliver amazing performances and Sumana Kittoor handles Sridhar’s script with great visual moments and gives ample space to every actor to perform. Exploring Tejaswi’s world is no small task and the director successfully delivers.
Now, Agni Sridhar does not just adapt but also writes his own books. Having been in the underworld for years and then going on to a tabloid after reforming, he has led a dramatic and interesting life. His years in the underworld spawned the semi-autobiographical ‘Dadagiriya Dinagalu’. And if there is anything Kannada cinema loves more than rom-coms, it is the gangster genre. Few book adaptations get the mainstream treatment, but director KM Chaitanya does a splendid job of this tragic and mysterious story of some of Bengaluru underworld’s most notorious gangsters. Sridhar himself is a character and it gives an insider feel to the whole film. Imagine an urban legend being narrated by one of the characters that lived in the legend.
It starts off as a romance, with music by Ilaiyaraja but then we are introduced to the main bosses in the mafia, Kotwal Ramachandra and MP Jayaraj. The number of dons that make an appearance almost makes it feel like an Avengers Assemble-type of a team-up film, making us go back and do our research. The rest of the film goes the drama route where it explores morality in the world of bloodshed. Watch it for the brilliant performances by Atul Kulkarni and Sharath Lohitashwa.
Director Siddalingiah’s Bhootayyana Maga Ayyu was an adaptation of writer Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar’s short story of the same name. It follows the story of a ruthless landlord and moneylender named Bhotayya and how his son faces the wrath of the villagers after the former’s death. The son, Ayyu, gets a nemesis in the form of Gulla, whose father had owed Bhotayya money and hence had suffered a lot. The rest of the film follows the enmity between Ayyu and Gulla, which ends in a devastating flood that affects the village.
The original short story was only 12 pages long and it is said that writer Gorur was initially hesitant to give the rights to the story as he was sceptical about it being right for a two-hour film. The director convinced him by adding more elements to the story and made it right for the feature film format. The film is known for its climactic flood sequence which was shot at the Shivanasamudra waterfalls, a moment of great filmmaking for when it was shot i.e. 1974. In the short story, the sequence was only one paragraph long.
Ace director Puttanna Kanagal has adapted many books into his film. Kanagal has adapted stories from Kannada writers such as TR Subba Rao (TaRaSu) and BGL Swamy, and English writers such as DH Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. But his adaptations of writer Triveni’s novels are his most memorable. Of those, the most prominent is the psychological drama Sharapanjara, an adaptation of Triveni’s novel of the same name.
The story follows the marriage of Kaveri and her gradual descent to mental illness after her second child. Consumed by post-partum psychosis, Kaveri spirals into a deep depression and delusion after being reminded of a traumatic memory, due to which she is admitted to an asylum. After her return, she faces judgement and scorn from everyone, including her husband, thereby intensifying her symptoms. The film is known for its brilliant portrayal of how society views the mentally ill, especially mentally ill women. Actress Kalpana's haunting performance has since been a part of Kannada pop culture. The film is also known for being very faithful to the novel, to the point where Kanagal retained the lines from the book, thus giving Triveni credits for the dialogues.
Girish Kasaravalli’s Dweepa is an adaptation of Na D’Souza’s novel of the same name. Starring Soundarya as the protagonist Nagi, the film focuses on the family of Daiva Narthakas who live amidst the Sita Parvata. They are asked to vacate the village they stay in as torrential rains threaten to drown the village, but the patriarch of the family, Nagi’s father-in-law refuses to do so as he is attached to his native town. As the rains increase, the rest of the villagers leave for the town while the family stays on. The men wallow in self pity while Nagi struggles to keep the family afloat.
Kasaravalli gives the story of the novel an artistic touch, bringing human relationships to the forefront. The film explores themes such as alienation, caste divide, gender divide and optimism in the face of adversity. The film won two National Awards, making it Kasaravalli’s eighth National award.
An adaptation of Jnanpith awardee K Shivaram Karanth’s novel of the same name, TS Nagabharana’s Chigurida Kanasu stars Shivarajkumar as the protagonist Shankar. An electric engineer who was born and brought up in Delhi, Shankar struggles to feel a sense of home as he is unaware of his origin. After learning Kannada to impress his Kannadiga girlfriend, he learns that he too is a Kannadiga when his father finally reveals his native town. He visits his village Bangadi for the first time and falls in love with it. He decides to relocate to Bangadi to develop his village, even if none of his family members agree to move with him. How Shankar transforms the village forms the rest of the story.
While the original novel was published in 1951 and sets the story in the 1940s, the film places the story in the present time. It positions itself as a mainstream film with the presence of Dr.Shivarajkumar as Shankar. The film is still hailed as one of Shivarajkumar’s best performances and the plot resembles that of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Swades.
TN Seetharam’s adaptation of SL Byrappa’s novel Mathadana stars Anant Nag, Tara and Devaraj. The story revolves around Shivappa, a doctor who comes to a village near Tumkur in Karnataka to serve the people. As he grows closer to the people he treats, he decides to enter politics and contest for elections. However, the quest for power slowly makes him forget from his goal of serving people.
SL Byrappa crafts an incredible story of caste politics and the conflict between idealism and reality. Though written in 1965 and adapted in 2001, the story still seems relevant, which is a testament to the writer’s timeless ideas (though, it is sad that the state of affairs have not changed). Watch it for the incredible performances by Tara and Anant Nag and the topical storyline.
Kuvempu’s Kanooru Heggadathi represents the changing landscapes of India after independence. Not just in terms of its physical appearances, with many forests and natural areas turning into concrete jungles, but also its ideals. Notable playwright and director Girish Karnad adapts the story, which centres around a feudal family, the patriarch of which has brought home a young girl, Subbamma, as his third wife.
The film adaptation features Girish Karnad as the patriarch Chandre Gowda and Tara as Subbamma. This was the only instance where a Jnanpith awardee (Karnad) has adapted the work of another Jnanpith awardee (Kuvempu). Watch the film to delve into Kuvempu’s pre-Independent Malnad and for a story that captures the ever-changing nature of our world.