The Fault In Our Stars (TFIOS), both the book by John Green and the movie by Josh Boone was a very specific kind of love story- Augustus Waters (played by Ansel Elgort) and Hazel Grace (played by Shailene Woodley) were teenagers, cancer patients, and radically aware of looming death. Their love, as a result, felt more immediate, and more intense, compensating for the time they lost and the time they know they will lose. There was a sense of naturalism too- of being able to ill-afford a trip to Amsterdam, of conversations that sound like banter and not dialogues, and parents who endear with casual affection. (When Hazel says she wants to be a regular teenager, with a fake ID, going to clubs, guzzling vodka and taking pot, her father chides her slightly, “You don’t take pot.”)
Dil Bechara, (streaming on Disney+Hotstar) directed by Mukesh Chhabra, adapted by Shashank Khaitan and Suprotim Sengupta, marries that specific love story with the framework and trappings of commercial cinema, of serenading lovers, and pious affairs. Here, naturalism is replaced with charming hero-hood. We have Immanuel Rajkumar Jr aka Manny (the late Sushant Singh Rajput) who climbs balconies to break into the room of his lover, Kizie Basu (Sanjana Sanghi), the former a survivor of cancer, and the latter enduring it. (In TFIOS they just sit by the swing on the garden; there’s no break in.) All references to stars in this movie are packed into one song Taare Gin when Basu wears a star-spangled glittering sweater, and dances under fairy lights for their prom-night. It’s a … metaphor for the adaptation: on the sleeve, and on the nose.
Now, any adaptation is an act of both inspiration and innovation. If you dig deep enough you might find the latter. I want to fixate a bit on the former- on the source text, because of how close it is to me, and an entire generation of John Green quoting romantics waylaid by life.
Ek Tha Raja Ek Thi Rani Fatalism
The framework of the stories are similar. The suburbs of Indianapolis in TFIOS becomes the industrial town of Jamshedpur, the horizon sprinkled with smoke spewing factories. The Honda of TFIOS becomes a TATA Tiago. The point is that not much happens in these towns for the story to be subsumed by its chaos.
Both stories begin with the idea of true love, and while Hazel Grace speaks of how grief is glossed up by Peter Gabriel songs and she wishes it to be true, but knows it never is, Kizie Basu is a bit of a fatalist, “Ek tha raja, ek thi rani, dono mar gaye, khatam kahani.”
An Alcoholic Writer Becomes A Teetotalling Musician
Peter Van Houten was one of the most abrasive characters from The Fault In Our Stars, an alcoholic writer, dishevelled in Amsterdam (where he is from, given the name) who writes a literally-incomplete novel that both Hazel and Augustus fixate on. He is bitter and angry, and towards the end of the film we find out he is still grieving his daughter who died from leukemia at a young age. He is redeemed, sort-of.
In Dil Bechara he becomes Abhimanyu Veer (Saif Ali Khan), a tee-tolling musician who seems to have written one-incomplete song and disappeared to Paris. When we first see him, he is not in his study buried among papers like Houten, but in a hip cafe with glass walls and domes, in a man bun, receding hair slicked back, sipping cold coffee with ice-cream. He screams sober at the end, “Gaana adhura tha kyunki yeh saali life adhuri hai,” and that’s the last we see of him.
This is a curious choice- to completely remove references to alcohol here, but add a scene where Kizie’s father and Manny bond over beer. Also, the “hot mess” Augustus and Hazel become in bed, grappling with tubes and breath, love and lust, her first kiss and their first time together didn’t find its way into this sanitized take on post-teenage love. (In TFIOS they were teenagers who met at the support group. Here, they meet at a college fest where Manny is introduced in a one-take Farah Khan choreographed song.)
The Cigarette Metaphor
While they chose to change a lot of the smaller details, some endured, like the cigarette that dangles between Manny’s lips, un-lit.
“Mein cigarette nahin pita. Maarne ki taaqat jale hue cigarette mein hoti hai, aur maine isse iski taaqat cheen liya. So, it’s just a metaphor.”
The Iconic Dialogues in Translation
TFIOS became the cult book and the cult movie among its target audience because of its radically quotable nature. Teenagehood is a time where perhaps we believe in, and buy into the neat profundity of quotes. A lot of the dialogues that later found themselves on tumblogs and Facebook captions for photos of youth leaning into the distance in soft lights, are translated in this movie.
“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
“Kehte hai pyaar neend ki tarah hoti ha. Dheeere dheere aata hai, aur phir ekdum se aap usme kho jaate ho”
“Perhaps ‘okay’ will be our ‘always”
“Seri ka matlab okay”
“I like seri”
“Yaani aajse, seri hamara word hai”
“Seri Kizie Basu”
“Seri Immanuel Rajkumar Jr.”
“I’m a good person but a shitty writer, you’re a shitty person but a good writer. I think we make a good team.”
“Main sachcha aashiq hoon, par ghatiya writer, aur voh ghatiya insaan hai par, sacha musician.”
“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have a say in who hurts you.”
“Janam kab lena hai, marna kab hai, yeh hum decide nahin kate. Par kaise jeena hai, voh hume decide karte hai
“My fears? … Oblivion.”
“Darr? Mujhe kisi se bhi darr nahi hai. ”
“When the scientists from the future show up at my house with robot eyes and tell me to try them on, I will tell them to screw off because I do not want to see a world without him. And then, having made my rhetorical point, I will put on my robot eyes on , because I mean, with robot eyes you can probably see through girls’ shorts and stuff. Augustus, my friend, Godspeed.”
“Bohut accha hua ke hum andhe hue. Kyunki humko vo duniya dekhni nahin hai, jisme Manny nahin hai.”