Short course at the British Film Institute on screen adaptations in Indian cinema
The British Film Institute on the bank of the River Thames is truly the home of world cinema in London. With several screens of various sizes, its well-stocked library and its vast collection of films from all over the world that one can browse, it attracts film buffs of all age groups. The café, bar and restaurant at the entrance are always full where people meet and talk before or after a screening.
Every year the BFI holds screenings of Indian films and hosts Indian cinema-related events apart from being one of the venues of the London Indian Film Festival. This summer the BFI hosted a short six-part film course on screen adaptations of literary works in the Hindi film industry. Organised by the South Asian Cinema Foundation it was a series of lectures and discussions spread over June and July. The title of the course was “The Book and the Film – The Literature Behind Hindi Cinema” and it included works such as Devdas, Guide, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Umrao Jaan, Saraswati Chandra and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. The adaptations were not limited to Indian literature alone, there was also the Shakespearean play Macbeth reinterpreted as Maqbool by Vishal Bharadwaj.
The period covered by the lectures was right from the silent era to Maqbool made in 2003. As the lectures were accompanied by short clips the audience saw the evolution in the style of acting in Indian cinema from the old black and white films to the technically sharp newer ones. Some rare films that one has only read about but never seen, like the classic 1936 P. C. Barua’s Devdas, were screened.
For the concluding session the SACF invited Anwesha Arya, the granddaughter of Bimal Roy and the daughter of Basu Bhattacharya, who lives in the UK with her actor husband Sagar Arya and their four children. Anwesha spoke about her grandfather’s work which include adaptations such as Devdas and Parineeta as well as her father’s adaptation of Teesri Kasam which had been screened during an earlier session. “Writing screenplays based on published works was quite common not only in early Bengali cinema but also among the Bengali filmmakers of Mumbai,” she said.
The subject of screen adaptations chosen for this short course was very relevant as Indian cinema has moved away from the formula films of the past and it is not uncommon to find filmmakers creating screenplays from literary works. Chetan Bhagat’s books are a prime example. And the recent adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s novel into a new series on Netflix has only made the audience expect more stories to migrate from printed pages to the screen.
The South Asian Cinema Foundation was set up in the year 2000 by Lalit Mohan Joshi who was formerly with the BBC Hindi service. He and his wife Kusum Pant Joshi organise events to create awareness about artistic Indian cinema. Their work is not easy as there is still an impression among film lovers in the UK that India produces only the commercial films of Bollywood. “For good films to find appreciation a good audience has to be prepared which understands what goes into the making of a film,” said Lalit Mohan Joshi.