Five book adaptations in commercial Indian cinema

Literary masterpieces brought to life on celluloid


News - India & You

March 22, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

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A still from Anurag Kashyap's film Dev.D, a popular adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's 'Devdas'.

A still from Anurag Kashyap’s film ‘Dev.D’, a popular adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas

A clearer understanding of a book’s transformation to a film, the intricacies of the transition and the driving forces behind such an adaptation. The trend is not new, but the Indian cinemascape is gradually taking to it with renewed vigour.

Cinematically speaking, adaptation is the art of translating written work into a film or television drama. A debate has raged for long among film scholars and critics about the credibility of film adaptations as a ‘primary’ form of art. Since literature predates the art of film making, it is often argued that literature is the higher form of art among the two. The author of Stanley Kubrick and the Art of Adaptation: Three Novels, Three Films, Greg Jenkins has remarked that an adaptation “is a presence that is woven into the very fabric of film culture.”

Let us take a look at the natures of adaptation by analysing these five Indian films that garnered both critical and commercial acclaim.


Adapted from Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas, this masterpiece by Anurag Kashyap cleverly distorts the timeline in which the original story was set, thereby adding a contemporary angle to the plot. The filmmaker ensures that his insight on the original novella is well reflected on the screenplay of the film. Shaping the characters of Dev, a spoilt young man with a devil-may-care approach to life, Paro, a woman well-aware of her rights, and Chanda (Chandramukhi), a victim of a MMS scandal being forced into prostitution as opposed to the original traits of the characters in the novella, marked the inclusiveness that made ‘Dev.D’ easy to relate to, and hence, a commercial success.


An adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by Vishal Bhardwaj, ‘Maqbool’ internalised the constitution of the Indian society and societal hierarchy by reflecting it upon the plot of the film. Starring stalwarts like Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Pankaj Kapur, the film is a revelation in the history of Indian adaptations; it justifies the argument by Hungarian-Jewish film theorist, Bela Balazs, “The novel should be regarded as a potential raw material to be transformed at will by the writer of the screenplay.”

Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela

Yet another adaptation of a Shakespearean classic, Romeo and Juliet, the film aimed at being a tribute to the original tragedy by keeping true to the essence of the tradition of tragic romances. Veteran filmmaker, Sanjay Leela Bhansali ensured that the socio-political play of the Indian society becomes the integral driving force of the plot of the film. The cultural interpretation of the psyche of the screenplay corresponds with the human mind’s receptivity to a mix of tragedy and romance. This justifies the aforementioned argument put forward by Greg Jenkins.

The Namesake

A literal adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s widely acclaimed book of the same name, this film by Mira Nair critically proves the workability of adaptations straight from the written work. The method of film making involves transforming literary medium into audiovisual medium with a hint of technical expertise. This justifies that the screenplay of an adaptation, in this case The Namesake, is independent of the parent novel despite the accuracy of the source material.

3 Idiots

The nationwide best-seller, Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat marked the inception of this wide-grossing film. The film, though, demystifies the thematic appeal and cult status enjoyed by the book, while retaining the soul of Five Point Someone. This affirms the statement that the credibility of an adaptation is not hampered in comparison to the original novel.

The art of adapting is a concept that is relatively sparsely used in the Indian context of film making, by virtue of which most Indian adaptations lack the finesse when compared to their western counterparts. Nonetheless, Indian adaptations have come a long way from Othello to ‘Omkara’, Hamlet to ‘Haider’, The Last Leaf to ‘Lootera’ and Quitters, Inc. to ‘No Smoking’.



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