Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival’s ‘Word to Screen’, held at JW Marriott, Juhu, on the 26th of September, highlighted the synergy that exists between text and cinema. The festival’s options market presented the opportunity for writers and publishers to pitch their work to filmmakers and producers, along with panel discussions on adaptations, cinema writing, and more.
Film Companion had a chat with prolific producer Siddharth Roy Kapur about the adaptation landscape in the Hindi film industry.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
What are your favourite adaptations?
You know, I’ve just seen Guide (1965) on the weekend after many years, and I have to say that that film really holds up after almost 60 years. It's still incredibly relevant. The characters are rounded, they’re grey, they're interesting, they go through things and change in the course of the film. It’s just so beautiful that a Hindi commercial film was made at that time which was able to portray all that.
Do you think our adaptation landscape has a true crime/biopic bias?
It probably does, I think you’re right, because those tend to be the ones that are high-concept plots that stand out, and that are easy to sell, honestly. And so therefore, you just instinctively gravitate towards those, because it doesn't really take much to be able to identify them. Whereas what happens with a lot of writing otherwise, is that people have to obviously make the effort to read the whole book, in the midst of reading, you know, multiple scripts that they have with them anyway. And so it becomes a little more difficult to identify those diamonds in the rough that are not high-concept and that are not easily explained to you in a line. So yes, the biopics and true crime tend to stand out much more.
Is there any specific book that you would like to see adapted?
Well, we've acquired the rights to The Anarchy (2019) by William Dalrymple. So I would definitely like to see that adapted. That's the story of the East India Company in India, and on the subcontinent. It's a monumental undertaking, and we are well aware of the historical significance that it has for us to be telling that story. So that's one that I think is a story that we should be telling, rather than anyone else telling it to us.
What do you think an adaptation does for text?
It's very important for the filmmakers to be able to reinterpret it while keeping the essence of it. … I think it's important to stay true to the spirit of the text, versus trying to stay true to the letter. Because often what works in a novel form might not necessarily work on screen. But if you just take the essence of what the book is trying to say, in the basic plot and characters, and try to tell the story the way it should be told within a cinematic format, or a series format — that flexibility, I think, is very important. The best ones tend to be the ones where the author's willing to let go, like sending a child to boarding school, willing to send their child out into the world, and letting other influences inform them and help them grow. Those ones tend to be the best adaptations.
What do you think MAMI’s role is in fostering these conversations?
I'm very proud to be a part of MAMI because of the fact that we are able to create platforms like these, which bring the world of literature and the world of filmmaking together. Because you otherwise tend to not be able to have these structured platforms on which filmmakers and authors can actually mingle and have an exchange of ideas.