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Book-to-movie adaptations often fall short of the expectations a book sets, but there are a few that do not disappoint. Here are 5 such brilliant Indian movies.
Book-to-movie adaptations are hardly a new thing in Indian films, and as such has been practiced extensively in the past century of Indian cinema.
Most people however enjoy reading the book, letting the characters take form in their mind than watching them on screen. When adapting into movies, stories often lose much of their charm and important details, and the actors playing the role often fail to fulfil the demands and expectations of the audience who have read that piece of literature. As a result such book-to-movie adaptations often end up being huge disappointments.
Rarely, a movie does justice to the book or actually ends up elevating the story. So we bring to you 5 such book-to-movoe adaptations that are not only excellent movies but are also as good as the book they are adapted from.
Released in 2003, directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Pinjar is based on the Punjabi novel written by Amrita Pritam, published in 1950, of the same name.
It is the story of a Hindu girl, Puro, abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid, whose parents refuse to recover the ‘defiled’ girl when she manages to run away to her parents from Rashid’s home. The book explores how women bore the brunt of the violence during the Partition of India. It is often claimed to be the best piece of literature written against the backdrop of the Partition.
The exemplary art direction, detailing and top notch camera work in Chandraprakash’s film transports one right back to the time in history in a country that was slowly being torn apart. Outstanding performances by Urmila Matondkar and Manoj Bajpayee brought to life the tormented characters of Puro and Rashid, making Pinjar a movie deserving of all the appreciation.
Puro was Urmila’s first role in her acting career in a historical drama, and she excelled at her portrayal of a lively Punjabi girl who is reduced to a mere relic, a personification of life-in-death on being abducted by Rashid (Manoj Bajpayee) and then forced to live with him when her parents refuse to accept her back. The haunting expressions of helplessness and bitterness in her eyes stays with the audience long after the film is over.
A 1999 Indian period drama film directed by Deepa Mehta is based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Cracking India (also published as The Ice-Candy Man) released in 1991. It is written by a female novelist from Pakistan, and explores the themes of Partition and its aftermath from the perspective of the people in Lahore and the effect it had on them. The novel deals with the bloody Partition of India through the eyes of a polio afflicted 8 year old Parsi girl named Lenny, who lives with her family in Lahore at the time.
Brought to the big screen by Deepa Mehta, Earth was Mehta’s second movie in the Elements Trilogy. And this tragic masterpiece has stayed with us due to its strong lead performances and exemplary direction that succeeded in showing something as monumental and complex as the Partition through the childish gaze of its protagonist, doing full justice to the path breaking novel.
Lenny is played seamlessly by Maia Sethna. The tearing apart of India is expressed and embodied in the competing affections of two men for Lenny’s Hindu ayah Shanta, played stunningly by the beautiful Nandita Das. She is both alluring, flirtatious and yet innocent, caught up in and destroyed by the communal fire. But Nandita Das is not the only hero of the film. It is director Deepa Mehta who weaves this experience on screen, filled with symbolism and undercurrents venturing out into the sphere of the Partition (that few directors would have the courage of doing) and giving it a human touch, all seen through the painfully simple and unprejudiced gaze of Lenny.
It was India’s entry for the 1999 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The 2003 Bengali drama film, directed by Rituparno Ghosh was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s 1903 novel of the same name.
Chokher Bali, that literally means sand in the eye (a common name to call best friends in olden Bengal) revolves around its central character Binodini and her relationship with three individuals. It explores Binding’s extramarital affair with Mahendra, the complicated friendship with Asha, Mahendra’s girl-wife, and her mutually conflicting feelings for Behari, Mahendra’s adopted brother.
The novel explored the condition of widows and the treatment meted out to them in 18th/19th century Bengal along with issues of child marriage, literacy and gendered power structures in the sphere of the family.
Rituparno Ghosh like many other directors took many creative liberties with the movie but succeeded in doing complete justice to Tagore’s norm-defying novel. Aishwarya Rai’s stellar performance as the rebellious widow Binodini was easily one of the best performances in her career that helped her bag the Anandalok Award for best actress in 2003.
Rabindranath Tagore’s stories are known for being far ahead of their time with powerful and fierce female chracaters and Chokher Bali was no different. Aishwarya’s casting as Binodini was questioned many times before the film’s release, but Rai answered all the critics with her deft portrayal of the complex character of the deprived widow on her journey towards sexual emancipation in a love quadrangle tale. Raima Sen excelled as Mahendra’s naïve young bride Ashalata expressing the insecurities, low self-esteem, pain and tribulations that characterized her.
Chokher Bali won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali and was nominated for the Golden Leopard (Best Film) award at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2003. The film screened at the 34th International Film Festival of India on 19 October.
The 1981 film Umrao Jaan, directed by Muzaffar Ali, is based on the Urdu novel named Umrao Jaan Ada written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa and published in 1899. The novel was written as a memoir about a courtesan and poet named Umrao Jaan from 19th century Faizabad, whom the author had met at a mushaira (poetry gathering) in Lucknow and had requested her to tell him the story of her life. The novel is remarkable for its elaborate portrayal of 19th century Lucknow and its moral hypocrisy and strict codes. Umrao Jaan then becomes a symbol of India itself, attracting many suitors who only look to exploit her.
Umrao Jaan was portrayed on the Big Screen by Rekha in a performance that was seen as the defining role of her career. Exquisitely shot and directed with outstanding performances by its lead characters and beautiful music score Umrao Jaan still stands strong as one of the most memorable movies Bollywood ever produced with a strong central female character.
With her graceful dance steps and stunning expressions, Rekha immortalised the character of Umrao Jaan in our hearts.
Although released in 1981, the film is still relevant due to it’s central theme about the tragic life of a woman, fallen in the eyes of society. And while the movie is far from a modern feminist one, it was path breaking in 1981 as it acted as a step forward in Bollywood’s portrayal of lead female characters. Rekha commanded the screen while the male characters only served to propel the tragic narrative. Umrao Jaan is thus memorable for the monumental change it brought on screen.
Shyam Benegal’s 1978 film about obsessive love set during the uprising of 1857 is based on Ruskin Bond’s novella A Flight of Pigeons. The story revolves around a young girl Ruth Labadoor who along with her family (who are British) try to reach their relatives after her father is killed by Indian rebels during the 1857 uprising. Ruth along with her mother, then, is taken away by force by the Pathan leader Javed Khan who wants to marry her.
Junoon was a movie that highlighted Shyam Benegal’s ability as a filmmaker of eliciting the best out of the ordinary, taking Bond’s story of obsession, love, and deceit and battlefield atrocity against the backdrop of a turbulent India during India’s first struggle for independence from the British to new heights. With stunning cinematography and strong performances by Shashi Kapoor, Nafisa Ali, Jennifer Kendal, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and a surprise inclusion of Ismat Chugtai who plays the role of Miriam’s mother, Junoon is an unforgettable film.
Jennifer Kendal, Shashi Kapoor’s wife in real life steals the show with her portrayal of a strong and unshakable widow who stands firm in her ground, refusing to give her daughter to a Pathan who is crazily in love with her. Her powerful dialogue “Dilli aapki to Ruth bhi aapki” steals the show. Nafisa Ali (her debut in Bollywood) plays Ruth to perfection, saying a total of 10 dialogues in the whole film but expressing every emotion through her eyes, every time the camera focuses on her. Shabana Azmi gives a memorable perfromance as Javed’s wife, a part of the scenery of hostility and yet expressing the vulnerability underlying the agression. And the cherry on top is Ismat Chugtai, who appears in a cameo as Miriam’s mother. The strong female characters in the movie play an integral role to make the film what it is.
Watch a snippet of the movie here:
Header image is a composite of stills from the movies mentioned here.
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B.A English Honours at Jadavpur University.
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