Cinematic Adaptations of Books: Some Ramblings

While writing my review of Piccadilly Jim—and comparing it to P G Wodehouse’s book—I was struck by the fact that most of the time, when I watch a film based on a novel I’ve read, I end up feeling let down. What is it, after all, that makes it difficult to recreate the magic of a book onscreen?
No, I’m certainly not saying all cinematic adaptations of books are bad; some are very good, as you’ll see in my list of ‘Goodies’, below. But there are Baddies too, and they, to my mind, far outnumber the Goodies.

When I began thinking about this topic, the first thing that came to mind was: I’m a purist. I like my books to be retained as is even on screen.

But when I began giving that idea some more thought, I had to admit that it’s well-nigh impossible to retain a book as is, when transferring it to the silver screen. The written word and cinema are two distinct forms of ‘storytelling’. In a book, for example, you have much more time and space: hundreds, even thousands, of pages in which to let the plot unfold and in which to provide as much description, as much insight into the minds of characters, as you want. (Or your editors will let you).

Let’s look at each one of these limiting factors one at a time. First, time.

In contrast to books, cinema can (note: not necessarily is) be restrictive, especially as far as time is concerned. While the writer has the luxury of slowly unfolding a plot or describing something, a film maker gets only a couple of hours in which to do that.

[Note on the side: This is perhaps why televised versions of books, especially in the form of miniseries, can often do more justice to a book than a feature film can. For me, the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice—starring  Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle—far outshines the film versions of the book. Similarly, other television series, like the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes, or Jeeves and Wooster, or the Mystery! Cadfael series—based on Ellis Peters’s classic historical whodunits about a medieval monk—manage to recreate the magic of the corresponding books or stories, in part because there’s more time over which to spread the story.]

Back to where we were.

The second important point—as I see it—is that of description. That can work both for and against a film maker vis-à-vis an author. For example, if you’re an author describing the landscape of the Sierra Nevada or the clothing of a 17th century Mughal princess, you’d probably have to go into lots of detail to help your reader conjure up the image effectively in his/her mind.

As a filmmaker, things are far easier: you show it, rather than tell it.

On the other hand, it can take away one of the major joys of reading a book: that of revelling in the literary skill of description. Here’s a short, simple example from the P G Wodehouse book I mentioned in my last post: Piccadilly Jim. Near the end of the book, this is how Wodehouse describes someone:

“… then [came] a heavily bearded individual with round spectacles, who looked like an automobile coming through a haystack…”

Yes, the heavily bearded individual with round spectacles isn’t a problem; you simply show him onscreen. But the simile? An automobile coming through a haystack? Not just difficult, but probably impossible (unless you have a bystander tell another something like “Oh, lord. He looks like an automobile coming through a haystack!”—which, in my opinion, is cheesy enough to merit being gratinated to ash).

And it’s not just in humour, but in other situations as well. What about suspense? It makes for good films (some of the best I’ve seen), but can also make for some difficult film making. A writer can describe the actions of people—including people who’ll be suspects, criminals, whatever—without giving faces to them.

You can do that to some extent in cinema too (the classic ‘dark shadow silhouetted against an open door/window’ shot), or a mysterious voice on a phone, etc—but how far? In a book, this facelessness or lack of identity can be gripping. In cinema, dragged on for too long and too ineptly, it can be lethal—for the viewer.  

The third aspect where books have the edge over cinema: offering insights, or the opportunity to show the reader what’s going on in someone’s head. Guilt, anguish, fear, loathing, passion, whatever emotion you can think of, an author can talk about. Either literally—by telling you how a character’s feeling—or laterally, through a character’s actions or words.

In cinema, that depiction of emotion is where actors come into the picture (and directors too). And God help you if, as a director, you have someone of the likes of Vimmi as one of your leads.


Which brings me to my main point: it’s very tough to translate a good literary work into good cinema. The scriptwriting has to be excellent, the direction and acting good—and, depending upon what the film is all about, otherwise true to the book as well. (1940 Pride and Prejudice, I’m looking at you! This film, for those who don’t know, reused dresses made for Gone With the Wind, when Jane Austen’s novel was set in Regency England—completely disregarding the change in fashions over about 50 years and across the Atlantic).

This is what Elizabeth Bennett’s costumes should’ve looked like:

And this is what the ladies wore in the film:

Example over. I move back to what I was talking about: the elements of a good adaptation. I can actually begin listing them down now. (And, please note, these are my opinions. You may certainly settle for less—or more).

I am willing to accept the following changes being made to a book that I like, when it’s made into a film:

(a) The removal (or shortening) of scenes, events, etc that do not add to the plot or to character development.

(b) Very judicious changes when it comes to characters—a minor one who doesn’t really contribute to the plot, and I’m fine with them being removed from the script or their role being shortened. When it comes to characters who do contribute to the plot, I like them to remain as is, thank you. (That was one of the things I didn’t like about Piccadilly Jim).

(c) Changes in locale, cultural background, etc, as long as they’re in keeping with the original story. So, while I’m not happy with Regency-era women being clothed in Civil War dresses (I have a lot of grudges against Pride and Prejudice!)… I don’t mind translated versions, where the entire milieu changes to one that’s familiar—as happened in Inkaar, a Hindi adaptation of Kurosawa’s Tengoku to Jigoku, itself based on Ed McBain’s book, King’s Ransom.

Tengoku to Jigoku is very believably Japanese, Inkaar is very obviously Indian—and they both draw from an American novel.

(d) Valid reasons for script changes. One of my perpetual grouses against bad adaptations is that they changed something that didn’t need changing. I can understand that constraints of time, space, budgets, etc can require changes in script. But why would you change a very good storyline just for the sake of it? (More on this in the ‘Baddies’ section, below).

So, that’s about it. Now, to move on to a quick listing of some cinematic adaptations that I like, and some that I don’t. And why. Needless to say, these are all based on books that I’ve read.

The ‘Goodies’:

1. Don Camillo (1952): Based on the books by Giovanni Guareschi. A classic example of a great adaptation, because—while not staying exactly true to the story (in any case, the Don Camillo books are more a series of vignettes)—it manages to capture perfectly the spirit of the Don Camillo books.

2. A Tale of Two Cities (1958): Based on the book by Charles Dickens. While changed in places, still a good and mostly pretty faithful copy of Dickens’s classic novel.

3. Far From the Madding Crowd (1967): Based on Thomas Hardy’s book—one I know pretty well, because I studied the entire (unwatered-down!) version in my final year at school. And yes, this adaptation’s a good one. Very good.

4. And Then There Were None (1945): Based on a play adapted, by the author, from Agatha Christie’s book. While there are a few changes (one important one is at the end), it’s otherwise a fairly decent adaptation.

5. Ben Hur (1959): Based on the book by Lew Wallace. The film, at 212 minutes, had ample time to recreate the novel—but then, Wallace’s novel itself is a long one (it actually consists of eight books). You can read it online here, if you wish.
There are changes in the film; for example, an Arab princess who is a fairly prominent character in the book is missing from the movie. But, on the whole, this epic film manages to bring to the screen the spectacle, adventure, emotion, and religious nature of the book very well.

Some more:

These include TV series, new films, etc: Sherlock Holmes (1984; TV series); Pride and Prejudice (1995; TV series); Pride and Prejudice (2005); Mystery!: Cadfael (1994-96; TV series); Jeeves and Wooster (1990-93; TV series); The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (2009; TV series).

The ‘Baddies’:

There are too many to list here! But still, the worst disappointments:

1. Von Ryan’s Express (1965): Based on the book by David Westheimer. This little-known novel is a fantastic World War II escape story in which an American colonel, leading hundreds of Allied POWs, has to somehow stop the Nazis taking all the POWs into Germany from a recently-capitulated Italy. It’s a brilliant book, fast-paced, funny, and well-plotted. The film is so-so;  it leaves out much of the humour in the book, and cuts down on the adventure too.
Worst of all—it changes a perfect ending to an utterly infuriating one, for no rhyme or reason other than to make Frank Sinatra look good.

2. Pride and Prejudice (1940): Based on the book by Jane Austen, this superbly witty love story about the headstrong Elizabeth Bennett and the proud Mr Darcy is obviously very popular with film makers—I’ve seen three films and three TV series based on it. The 1940 version is among the worst adaptations, not just because it mangled the story, leaving out important sections and characters, but also because it made one absolutely unforgiveable change: it turned the end topsy-turvy. And why, I cannot fathom.

3. Quo Vadis (1951): Based on the book by Henryk Sienkiewicz, about the love between a Roman warrior and a young Christian girl, set against the backdrop of a Rome ruled by the mad Nero. It’s a sprawling book, of almost epic proportions that weave together various threads: the love of Marcus and Lygia; Petronius’s growing disgust with Nero; the political situation in Rome; the plight of the early Christians; and other plot elements. The film, while good on its own, concentrates on the Marcus-Lygia romance and leaves out a lot of the subplots, including some important characters that appear only in the book.

4. A Damsel in Distress (1937): Like Piccadilly Jim, based on a Wodehouse novel. And, even worse than Piccadilly Jim, this one doesn’t just distort the plot, it deprives it of almost all humour (unless slapstick appeals to you). The book’s a delightful one, with good dollops of mistaken identity and romance and whatnot thrown in. The film’s main draw is that you get to see Fred Astaire dance. If you watch it for Wodehouse (as I did), you might be very disappointed.

5. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939): Based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes novel. Like Quo Vadis, a good film on its own—but not as well-plotted as the novel. One thing I don’t understand: why do people writing screenplays for films based on detective novels meddle so much with the plot? While Dr Doyle’s novel is pretty watertight, the film version has plenty of holes.

And some more:

The 39 Steps (1935; a great film, but bearing only the most fleeting of resemblances to John Buchan’s novel); The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934); Thank you, Jeeves! (1936)… and more that I prefer to forget I ever saw.

Which are your favourite (or worst) adaptations? What are you willing to forgive, and what would you like from a good adaptation? Tell us!


122 thoughts on “Cinematic Adaptations of Books: Some Ramblings

  1. Baddies are too many to be enumerated. And look forward to a discussion on this topic when I see you…
    Why does a small book, needing to describe and tell everything in words, pack a whole universe in it whereas a film, which theoretically can tell “all” because we can see it, takes forever just to give the basic outlines of any plot.

    Although I usually dislike films made on books I have read and enjoyed, one that I really like both the book and film of (and they are different) is To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Rest, its a great topic and post!


    • Thank you for telling me about To Kill a Mockingbird, bawa. I have to admit I have neither read the book nor seen the movie (though I have the movie tucked away in my to-watch pile). Must get around to it one of these days.

      I think one reason – for me, at least – about books being able to pack in “a whole universe” (well put, by the way!) is that we have generally have the luxury of spending a long time reading the book, going back again and again to certain parts that we like (I do that sometimes), and of adding our own experiences in life to our visualisation of the book. Some of this, of course, happens when watching a movie, but it’s still different.

      And what it actually all boils down to, is this: Don’t mess with the books I like! It’s actually a sort of Catch 22 situation for film makers, I suppose: if you make a film based on a best-seller, the chances of getting an eager audience are high, because nearly everybody who loved the book will want to see your film. But then, that also automatically raises the bar. If your film doesn’t match up to the book, those people will hate it even more than if they’d never read the book.

      I remember thinking the 1940 Pride and Prejudice (which I first watched as a pre-teen, before I’d read it) was pretty good. Now just the thought of it makes me see red.


      • I came to this old post of yours because of your more recent one on the book with stories that inspired Satyajit Ray. My PRIMARY reason to come to this page (other than the fact that I enjoy your writing in general) was to see what you had to say about “To kill a mockingbird” and then I see this in the comments. You could have knocked me down with a feather :-) So since 2012, have you rectified this absolutely horrific error on your part?
        The book was and is among my most favorite ones ever. I have loved many books before and since, but none had the emotional impact that this one did. And then I saw the film, long after it was originally made. While everybody raved about the film, I went in expecting to dislike it – how could anybody do that book justice, I thought. And it ranks among my most favorite films ever. There are scenes that make me emotional just talking about or even thinking about them. And a lot of the credit goes to Gregory Peck who manages to embody Atticus Finch – he inhabits that character and everytime I read the book now, I see Peck’s face.
        The other case where I think the films have managed to capture the essence of the book completely is Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Again, they are books that I have read multiple times and I have seen the films many many times as well. There are some aspects that should not have been added (like the love story), but it does not detract from the essence of the books. His visualization of Sauron and the eye is brilliant, as is the capturing of life in the Shire. And Ian McKellen was the perfect Gandalf.
        Most other cases – I generally prefer the book to the film. Usually, if I see the film first, I like it as much as the book. But if I have read the book first, chances are I will like it much more than the film. Sometimes even if the film is not all that bad. Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” is in that ilk. Not badly acted, not a bad film. But the book is a 100 times better.
        I saw the film version of “Dolores Claiborne” long back. I did not know that it was a Stephen King book – in fact I never really read him till I got married and my wife introduced me to his writing – and then I regretted not having started reading him sooner. Back to the film, I really liked the film. Some brilliant acting. Until I read the book. Brilliant brilliant brilliant piece of work. How a male author could inhabit the voice and thinking of an old woman from Maine, I don’t know. The entire book is written in first person and only has the one speaker – the protagonist. The story is told by her to the police. I cannot watch the film again without feeling let down.
        Okay enough random meandering. Another really nice topic Madhu, even if I was late to the party.


        • Arrghh. I have to admit I still haven’t got around to reading To Kill A Mockingbird, even though I’ve now got the book. :-( That’s the worst thing about books – there are so many still to be read, and mouthwatering new ones coming every other day as well! I have, however, recently read some classics I’d been telling myself I must read (Train to Pakistan, Godaan, The Tale of Genji, Things Fall Apart, Of Mice and Men, etc), so I’m not feeling totally as if I’ve been wasting my time. But yes, I really must read To Kill A Mockingbird, soon.

          As far as The Lord of The Rings trllogy is concerned, I liked the films much more than the books – though that may have been a result of watching the films first and then reading the books. The way Jackson has taken the most exciting parts and distilled them into films is superb – which, of course, made me find the books a little too long and meandering.

          And would you believe it? While I’ve read a good bit of Stephen King, and seen some of the films based on his work, I’ve never yet seen a film based on any of his books I’ve read. Thank you for the Dolores Claiborne recommendation – I’ve neither read it nor seen the film, so will put that on my list!

          Now to try and find myself an additional 12 hours or so per day…


  2. Beautiful post as usual, and very interesting topic… my views on adaptations are pretty much in sync with yours – I don’t mind changes if the spirit of the book is retained, but cutting out important characters and changing the ending of the story unnecessarily – no thanks. I had no idea Quo Vadis was based on a book! I like the film – will have to find the book. My very favourite adaptations of books have been televised miniseries rather than films – North & South (2004), Wives & Daughters (1999) and Pride & Prejudice (1995) are some of my all-time favourite adaptations, all miniseries. But back to films – I wouldn’t call it a favourite but I really like the film adaptation of About A Boy (2002) – it captures a lot of the humour and whimsy of Nick Hornby’s novel, and is one of precious few films I can tolerate Hugh Grant in. I like the 1994 version of Little Women, mostly for Winona Ryder’s performance, but again it’s not a favourite. I also thought that Ang Lee’s version of Sense & Sensibility (Emma Thompson & Kate Winslet) was nicely done. The most recent version of Jane Eyre could have been greater with a better Rochester and a better script – Mia Wasikowska was wonderful as Jane. I’m really struggling to think of cinematic adaptations of books that I really LOVE, which perhaps is the point. Oh, here’s one – I love the version of A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott. Adaptations I’ve disliked – oh, so many, where to start? I love Kenneth Branagh, but not his version of Much Ado About Nothing – I know a lot of people love it, but it’s not for me. There’s more than one bad adaptation of The Three Musketeers.


    • Thank you, DG! Yes, Quo Vadis is based on a book (and a very good one at that. My mum bought me a copy when I was in senior school, and I’ve read and re-read it often since then). If you don’t mind reading it online, here it is:

      I couldn’t agree more with you about miniseries being generally better than films when it comes to replicating the book. I love all the ones you’ve listed (especially North and South and Pride and Prejudice). The British – whether the BBC or not – do a very good job of televising period dramas and romances. Incidentally, while on the topic of TV miniseries and films adapted from books: two more favourites of mine include All Creatures Great and Small (based on the books by James Herriott) and Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals – both are utterly lovable.

      I haven’t seen the Mia Wasikowska Jane Eyre (though I’ve got it; just haven’t got around to it yet), and I liked Sense and Sensibility… good one, that. And yes, The Three Musketeers has been mutilated horribly, hasn’t it? Two frightful versions I’ve seen included the Gene Kelly one (which I’ve reviewed on this blog) and the one last year, with Orlando Bloom and Matthew MacFadyen in it. I remember seeing a good French version as a kid, but don’t remember which year that was. It may even have been a miniseries, now that I think of it…


    • That’s one I haven’t seen. Though, since A Christmas Carol is a novella, I agree that it might fall into the bracket of ‘easier to adapt’ – short fiction, whether short stories or novellas, have that advantage over full-fledged novels, I think, mainly because they don’t impose the need to cut out stuff as much as do adaptations of novels. One reason why I thought Witness for the Prosecution did a good job of recreating Christie’s story.

      It’s been a long time since I saw Junoon, so I don’t recall very much of it. I do have Ruskin Bond’s A Flight of Pigeons, though. Maybe I should re-read that and then go watch the movie again and see how it stands up to the original.


  3. Well-written, Madhu! Lucid and packing!
    I didn’t know that they used the same costumes for Gone With The wind and Pride and Prejudice.
    I loved the former and for the first time in my life, I had a feeling that the film did the book justice, although I had a different picture of Scarlett in my mind.
    And apart from the reasons you have mentioned, the pictures in the mind of the reader, is one of the reasons where the films fail. Every person has his or her imagination of the characters and settings of a book in his or her mind. Like I had picturised Sherlock Holmes surroundings in black and white according to the sketches in the book I had read and to see them in colour in the BBC series was at first disconcerting, but later on it completely replaced the sketches in my mind.
    The different cases which you have discussed, I have seen either the movie or read the book or none, but in none of the cases I have done both, except for Then There Were None. I loved the book version more, though the film version was good as well and since I had read the book, I was expecting the end and the movie did give it a twist, which made it interesting.
    Thank you for the wonderful post Madhu, it made interesting reading!


    • Why did I publish this post and leave myself open to having to confess all the classic novels I haven’t read?! Yes, Gone With the Wind is one of them. I think my mother has it, but I’ve never got around to reading it.

      Coincidence: last night, after I’d finished publishing the post and was thinking over it, I did wonder if anybody would point out that very same thing you talk about: about movies not measuring because we tend to form pictures in our minds of what’s happening, what characters are like (especially what they look like!), etc. Even though the first Sherlock Holmes book I read was an abridged version of The Hound of the Baskervilles – with black-and-white illustrations, etc – I somehow warmed to the Jeremy Brett TV series right from the start. Ever since, I’ve never been able to think of anybody but Brett as Holmes. And certainly not Robert Downey, Jr.

      P.S. Thank you for the appreciation! :-)


      • >Why did I publish this post and leave myself open to having to confess all the classic novels I haven’t read?!

        My problem is the opposite. I’ve read books but haven’t seen their adaptations, or even know whether they have any because I don’t watch English films generally. Even P&P1995 I first heard of in 2000, and that’s when I learnt about all the others as well and went on a wild spree buying one after the other and now there’s not a single adaptation of Jane Austen that I don’t have including mordenized adaptations.
        Did you know that Kandukondain Kandukondain (Tamil) is a modern version of Sense and sensibility like Bride and Prejudice?
        It’s quite good.


        • I think I first fell in love with Pride and Prejudice before I read the book, because I watched the Hindi TV series Trishna on Doordarshan (and I loved that adaptation – I thought it was well done). Then, somewhere along the way, I read the novel a few times, so by the time 1995 arrived and Pride and Prejudice was being shown on TV, I used to scurry home from work to make sure I didn’t miss any of it. :-)

          I’ve heard of Kandukondain Kandukondain, but didn’t know it was a version of Sense and Sensibility. Bride and Prejudice, while a decent enough idea, didn’t really appeal to me because it was just too noisy in places (those mandatory song and dance sequences!) and Aishwarya Rai, while pretty, isn’t my idea of a great actor…


  4. I did tell you about Sound of Music. The novel was a long boring account of how Maria married the Captain and the had one offspring after another, she detailed her various illnessess with relish. Then came the story of their coming to US and being rather poor there, and so on and so forth, until they turn to singing.

    I dont know why you didnt mention Gone with the Wind. That was a marvellous adaptation of the book.

    I did think Jennifer Ehle and Coling Firth (ooh) version of P&P was the best. I like most of the BBC miniseries, except the one for Mansfield Park.

    I do think I tend to be kind while judging a movie based on a favorite book of mine, unless they really mangle it.

    Even though there were many changes in the movie, and the book remains a big favorite of mine, I think the LOTR movies were the best adaptation anyone could have attempted. Peter Jackson gets full marks. Some of the actors could have been better, but still, the whole visualisation was superb.

    Same for the Harry Potter books. The visualisation was great, even if they had to leave out parts of the book.

    When I watch LOTR or HP movies on TV I usually keep saying – It was different in the book here, and my son just gives me looks that say “Mom is at it again”


    • Ewww. The original novel of The Sound of Music sounds terrible. Thank you, again, for warning me off. I know if this had come my way, I’d never have been able to resist the temptation to read it – and how disappointing that would have been.

      Okay. Why haven’t I listed Gone With the Wind? As I confessed to Harvey, I haven’t read it. :-( The sheer size of that book is daunting. That’s actually one reason I haven’t yet got around to reviewing War and Peace either – I loved the film, but would like to review it after reading the book… and Tolstoy’s tome is so thick, just looking at it makes my mind whirl. Someday…

      I agree with you about LOTR. I think the trilogy is a superb example of what a good adaptation should be – he leaves out a lot of the superfluous stuff and retains the main threads brilliantly. I’ve seen all three movies (extended versions, too!) multiple times, and still haven’t tired of them. The book… well, again, too fat (though I have read it), but I don’t remember specifics.

      The same goes for the Harry Potter books/movies. Those were well-made, too. My niece and nephew (who know the books inside out) would probably be better qualified to comment on how close the movies were to the books (or not), but still: I liked both.


  5. In apna Hindi films too, lots of Bengali books have been made into movies, which many people know about. I haven’t read all those books, but the movies were fairly good. I haven’t read Parineeta’s book, so can’t really tell.

    In Gujarat, Saraswati Chandra and Gun Sundari no Ghar Sansar (parts of the same book) were made into films. I have read parts of the books, and it was a large rambling thing. The movies picked out the more ‘romance’ parts of it. Gun Sundari no Ghar Sansar is gujarati movie, and very sweet. We all know about Saraswatichandra.

    Kati Patang, Ajanabi were made from Gulshan Nanda novels. There were others, but I can’t think of the name right away.

    Oh that reminds me – A J Cronin’s The Citadel was made into a movie. I have read the book and seen the movie, but long back and the memory kind of fades, but they were both good, In turn it was made in Tere Mere Sapna in apna desh.

    The Judas Tree by AJ Cronin was the ‘inspiration’ for a short story by Kamleshwar which was made into the film Mausam. AJ Cronin’s book was very cruel to its protagoinst, but then AJC was never kind. Even Kamleshwar’s story had a sad ending – I read it in Dharmyug years ago. But the movie had a nice hopeful sort of an ending.


    • I was wondering if anybody would be so kind as to compare some Indian films to books, preferably Indian books. There are plenty, as you point out (I was also thinking of Charulata and Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, but haven’t read either, so cannot comment on how good they were as adaptations). One that I have read and watched wasChiriakhana – based on Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi mystery novel of the same name, and made into a film by Satyajit Ray. Good novel, good film – but with a director like Ray, I guess I would have expected something a little better. But then, he himself did say that whodunnits don’t work onscreen. (Not an opinion I concur with!)

      Usne Kaha Tha was also based on a literary work – a short story – but I thought the story was better than the book.

      Was Kati Patang based on a Gulshan Nanda book? I’d always heard of it as being a remake of No Man of Her Own, which was based on Cornell Woolrich’s I Married A Dead Man.

      I haven’t read any of the AJ Cronin books you’ve mentioned, nor seen the movies – except for Tere Mera Sapne and possibly Mausam, but both I saw as a child, so don’t remember anything of them except for the songs.


      • I suspect Gulshan Nanda lifted the story of I married a dead man, and turned it into a hindi novel, which was adapted into a movie.

        Vijay Anand was supposed to be a fan of AJ Cronin, I read somewhere. I guess that made him adapt The Citadel into a Hindi movie.

        Now that you have mentioned Tolstoy, I did see one version of Anna Karenina, it was the Vivian Leigh one. It was a beautiful film, yet it would be hard indeed to surpass the novel. Anna Karenina is the novel I mention if asked to name the one I like best.


        • I haven’t seen the Vivian Leigh version of Anna Karenina (not that I’ve read the novel, *blush*) – but I do recall watching, very long ago, a Russian version.

          Your comment on Vijay Anand being a fan of AJ Cronin reminded me of something Sidharth Bhatia mentions in his book, Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story: that the Anand brothers, having had a rather Westernised education, drew a lot of their inspiration from Western works. Navketan’s first release, Neecha Nagar, was based on Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths; and the next film, Afsar, was an adaptation of Gogol’s The Inspector General.


  6. I am so happy to be able to agree with you again, Madhu. It seemed so out of sync to disagree. :) One movie which was better than the book, in my opinion, was The Bridges of Madison County. I am not a great fan of JRR Tolkein, but I thought the films did justice to what was after all an alternate universe, with myriad strands.

    In the television series, Agatha Christie’s Poirot *and* Miss Marple have both been televised very well indeed, even allowing for certain liberties that needed to be taken.

    And yes, To Kill a Mocking Bird – book *and* film – NOW! Cannot believe you haven’t read or seen the two. One of Gregory Peck’s finest, and I do mean, finest moments.

    Another excellent movie was Wag the Dog – do watch it if you haven’t already. It had Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro at the top of their form – especially before de Niro began to ham so much that he would have made an excellent ham n’ cheese sandwich. It was even more intriguing for us because the film came out much earlier, but it *so* represented the Bush presidency.

    Oh, and 3.10 to Yuma – since you like Westerns. It’s a mindblowing film and a great adaptation.


    • Yes, so nice to have us in agreement again, Anu! :-)

      I haven’t read The Bridges of Madison County – nor (believe it or not) seen the film. Yes, I know… oh, and I completely agree re: Poirot. Good adaptations, there, especially the TV series, which I remember watching just around the time I was completely immersed in reading the Poirot stories too. So I knew they were good adaptations. I don’t recall reading Murder on the Orient Express, but the film (Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, etc) was a good one, just the type Agatha Christie would have written.

      Wag the Dog? Have never even heard of it. I’ve just had a look at the IMDB page, and I’m wondering if this is something I’d like to watch… politics bores me to death (which is probably one reason why All The President’s Men nearly put me to sleep). But I’ll keep it in mind.

      I’d no idea 3:10 to Yuma was based on a book! By whom? (I’ve done some Googling, but haven’t been able to unearth that – only lots of links pertaining to the Russell Crowe film). I haven’t seen the later film, but the original one – starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin – was good. Reminded me in some superficial ways of High Noon.


      • Madhu, 3.10 was written by Elmore Leonard, who also wrote the screenplay with Henry Rollins.

        As I said before, please, please re-watch ‘All the President’s Men’ when you are not ill! From a journalistic point of view, it was one of the best pieces of investigative journalism.

        Wag the Dog is interesting to me because it literally prophesied events that took place almost a decade later. It’s like Bush’s men got to watch the movie, and said, “Bingo! Let’s use this to divert attention from everything else!’


        • “As I said before, please, please re-watch ‘All the President’s Men’ when you are not ill!”

          Remember WDGTT?! :-D

          As it is, between everybody who’s commented on this post, I’ve probably been given the names of at least a dozen movies that sound mouthwateringly great, and which I’ve not seen yet – so those move up to the top of the pile. And, think: to analyse them properly, I would like to read the corresponding book first.

          I wish there was some way for me to write/read/watch movies/cook/clean/etc while sleeping…


  7. VERY interesting post – I really must read Piccadilly Jim! For me, one of the best film adaptations is Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring – he got just about everything right. One of the worst was his Return of the King, he totally eviscerated the story and ruined any point to it.


    • You have the advantage of me when it comes to the LOTR trilogy, Stuart. Though I have read Tolkein’s book and seen all three films, I remember very little of the book (fascinating though it was, I began to find it dragging in places). But all this talk of LOTR is making me want to see the films all over again, even if the last one was eviscerated.


      • I read LotR the first time when I was about 7, and another 18 or so times after that. It was the book that sparked my love of languages but although I’d outgrown the story by the time the films were released, the 3rd movie’s gutting of “The Scouring of the Shire” was criminal in that it muted the central point of the narrative – nobody WINS a war, everybody loses something, some just lose less. Instead, Jackson just made a shooty-shooty bang-bang film where the guys in white hats come off both victorious and largely unscathed emotionally and psychologically.


        • I hadn’t remembered that point, Stuart. Yes, in that case, of course, I would agree that Jackson turned that part of the story into a typical Hollywood action film. Let’s see what The Hobbit turns out to be like (which, incidentally, I must read. Another book I haven’t read till now).


  8. I notice that most if not all the books discussed in your post were fiction, and several that were period fiction, so let me begin by addressing non-fiction. The bar is higher for a non-fiction book being adapted to a movie, not only do you have to match an excellent book, but your movie performances invariably get compared with real-life personalities. An excellent example of a successful book-to-movie is “All the President’s Men”, Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein’s real-life account of their sleuthing during Watergate. Robert Redford (Woodward) & Dustin Hoffman (Bernstein) being major stars carried obvious baggage; would they be too good looking (esp. Redford), would they be convincing in mostly non-glamorous painstaking journalist roles. To their credit they rose to the occasion, and aided by a great supporting cast & a wonderful director Alan Pakula, created a movie that brought out the essence of the book and in many ways enhanced it.
    Another non-fiction book-to-movie I like is Persepolis, the autobiographical account of a young girl (Marjane Satrapi) growing up in pre & post Islamic revolutionary Iran.
    In both these cases it probably helped that the protagonists were not very well known, “Primary Colors” a book and a movie about Bill Clinton’s campaign for the presidency suffered from comparisons between the real person & the actor. John Travolta who played Bill Clinton & Emma Thompson who played Hillary Clinton are accomplished actors, but could never match the charisma & presence of their real-life counterparts. (Note, this book falls somewhere between non-fiction & fiction, the characters have fictional names, but are based upon real-life persons & events.)

    Coming to fiction, “The Godfather” is a great book and a great movie; it had several scenes that were more effective in conveying what the book attempted to say. One example is the elder Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) baring his innermost thoughts to his son Michael (Al Pacino) , ‘I have always lived my life my own way …I thought you would be the one to hold the strings … Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone…”. These lines are present in the book, but their on-screen impact due to Marlon Brando is much more effective.

    There are several good adaptations in the action-suspense category, with usual suspects like “The Day of the Jackal”, “The Guns of Navarone” & “Where Eagles Dare”. In all these cases, I felt the movie was much better for obvious reasons of easier to portray action on screen & star power (esp. Gregory Peck & Clint Eastwood.).

    One movie that I felt fell flat on its face was the 1992 “The Count of Monte Cristo”. A much better adaption was the TV series starring Gerard Depardieu.

    I may be in the minority on this viewpoint, but I think “Guide” the film was better than “Guide” the book. Waheeda Rehman’s character was better developed in the film, a first-of-a-kind feminist interpretation.

    Agree with you on several points in your impressive post, —
    1) P. G. Wodehouse humor does translate easily from book to screen
    2) Several Agatha Christie books make good movies/TV series, although I have one exception. “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” was butchered in the TV series starring David Suchet.

    In conclusion, while I support all of you possible change situations, I am much more flexible in accepting other changes.


    • While the original post is quite an engrossing read, I was on look out for references to Godfather, Guide and Dr. Zhivago.
      I have not seen the English version of Guide, but it is reported that RK Narayan was not happy with the English version, and it took a special call from Dev Anand to get his permission to continue with Hindi version. I am of course, a great fan of Vijay Anand’s depiction of Raju the Guide in the movie.
      Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is indeed an instance where both versions score for being termed as epic.
      Devdas has several versions on the screen, which render comparsion with the book audacious.


      • Yes, I ended up not giving any of those references because I haven’t seen (or read) The Godfather, haven’t read Dr Zhivago, and don’t much care for Guide, both book and movie. In fact, the film is one of my least-liked ones; the only reason I’d watch it again is for the songs – I love those.

        Incidentally, Sidharth Bhatia (in Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story) mentions that the English version is closer to Narayan’s novel in terms of plot.


    • That’s an interesting topic you’ve introduced in the discussion, Samir – yes, I did tend towards period films and films based on fiction (probably a reflection of the fact that those are the books and films that i find particularly engrossing!) Yes, I agree completely that translating a work of non-fiction to screen is an even trickier proposition. Which is why, while I enjoy historicals, I tend to steer clear of most Hindi historicals because they’re often so wildly off the mark!

      I wasn’t particularly impressed by All The President’s Men – possibly because I don’t find politics interesting, partly possibly because the one time I watched the film, I was fairly ill and had to watch it for an article I had to submit. Watching something because you want to and watching something because you have to makes a huge difference.

      I must confess I am neither a fan of Guide (as a book – I like the Malgudi series far better) or as a film – though the songs are fantastic. Even if I had to be completely subjective and look on the film as an adaptation of the novel, I don’t think I’d call it a good adaptation. There is an aspect of Dev Anand – the star, not the actor – being glorified, which puts me off, and there are examples of things being changed to suit the ‘norms’ of Hindi cinema. For example, Marco is shown as being a ‘bad man’, which (sort of) justifies Rosie’s affair with Raju. Seems a way of pandering to the sensibilities of 60s cinema, where adultery on the part of a lead wasn’t acceptable – so a reason had to be provided for it.

      I love The Day of the Jackal and Where Eagles Dare, both book and film (The Guns of Navarone not so much). I may be mistaken, but I seem to recall that in the case of Where Eagles Dare, the book came after the film, not before. Much as I adore the film, there’s one aspect of the book that I like more: the humour in Schaeffer’s character. :-)


    • Samir, I *hated* the adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo which starred Gerard Depardieu, though I think he is a fantastic actor. He just didn’t fit the role of Edmond. I loved Day of the Jackal, Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone – I agree the films were better, well, a little better because I loved the books too.


    • Ah, yes. :-D I meant to comment on that, but forgot. Yes, Wodehouse’s brand of humour certainly doesn’t translate well from book to screen. Half the fun lies in how he writes.


  9. Adding to the chorus, a well written article.

    I found a very good version (if long) of Les Miserables one long rainy (and spirited : )) night. I forget which .. I’ve ordered the 1978 version and hopefully it is that. As someone said, several Macleans have been good movies (esp Where Eagles Dare). One series that managed to capture humor, manages a match between print and screen is the Yes Minister series. Apparently a series with Alec Guiness playing George Smiley (Le Carr’s novels) was also very good. Not had a chance to see, however.

    Guide as a novel was about redemption, a man’s journey. The movie is a many-splendored thing … the music, the filming, the performances (and the eye candy. Waheeda!) But it was nowhere a faithful reproduction of the book. The novel had a theme, the movie a hero : and I guess that made the difference.

    In Hindi, I thought Ek Chadar Maili Si was also well made …a lesser known movie is Suraj Ka Satwaan Ghoda . Teesri Kasam was apparently good, but is off my list as I simply cannot bear Raj Kapoor.


    • Thank you, AKM.

      Teesri Kasam wasn’t a film I wanted to watch either, because I can’t bear Raj Kapoor either. But this wasn’t really an RK film – possibly because he didn’t direct it, so he was actually an actor, not RAJ KAPOOR. Lots of people – all of whom knew my aversion to Raj Kapoor – suggesed it, though, and I ended up liking it a lot. Haven’t read the original story, so I can’t say how good or bad an adaptation it was, but it was certainly a very good film.

      But it was nowhere a faithful reproduction of the book. The novel had a theme, the movie a hero : and I guess that made the difference.

      Thank you! Those were the words I was looking for. Yes, you’re right. I don’t care for the book (or the movie, actually), but that’s a good description of the core difference between them.

      I don’t recall reading Yes Minister or Yes Prime Minister – but the series was fantastic.

      And, as I mentioned in my reply to Samir, I seem to recall reading that Where Eagles Dare was written after the film. From what I know, MacLean wrote the screenplay for the film, and when the film proved such a ‘humdinger’ (Burton’s words), MacLean decided to convert it into a book. I may be wrong…


  10. An interesting analysis DO. Loved reading it, and the comments.
    I agree with harvey (and you) the important reason for books and adaptations having a diffrent impact is due to the picture of the characters and places etc we form in our mind.

    While reading a book you are in your own private world with your own interpretations based on your own personality, and a picture of the characters.
    Then comes an adaptation, interpreted as the director/scriptwriter thinks, and *pop* bursts the picture you had formed.

    My favourite hindi author is Munshi Premchand who had a few books adapted to films. I thought they did a good job with Godan. Somehow emotional content with toils and troubles do come out quite well on screen as was the case with Godan.
    A dejected silent walk along the road/footpath or a quiet gaze towards the horizon conveys a lot more than words and here adaptations do tend to get an upper hand.

    One shoddy thing done to classics is the watering down of the English making it simpler. As they did in The 2005 P&P. Even modern body language gets into things spoiling it for book lovers.

    One does’t mind musicals though :)
    Loved Oliver.

    Much as I love Pride and Prejudice of 1995 Lizzy was too tall and big for the Lizzy in my mind for ‘little Lizzy’ (as Mr Bennet says), The reason I love the earlier one of 1980, where the Lizzy by Elizabeth Garvey fits like a T to the one I had in mind.
    Many on our Jane Austen forum also think that showing Darcy going about setting things right was not exactly a bright idea of Davies who thinks he is on some sort of crusade for men in the Austen world because her books were so women oriented. He gave Edward Ferrars in his last adaptation of Sense and sensibility a much stronger character as opposed to what one forms of a quiet unobtrusive one.

    oops. I seem to have gone on and on about JA only.
    From the books I have read, and mentioned by you, fortunately or unfortunately I haven’t seen many adaptations.


    • While reading one of the previous comments, I was suddenly reminded of Munshi Premchand, and realised that I’d not seen any film versions of his books (though I do recall watching the TV series Nirmala years ago on Doordarshan). His books would have the potential to be made into excellent movies, given good scripts, direction and cast.

      Yes, the dumbing down of the language in the 2005 P&P irked me too (as did everybody’s messy hair!! LOL). Still, after having seen the travesty that the 1940 version was, I am inclined to forgive even the 2005 version. I have seen the Elizabeth Garvey version is good too, but I still prefer the 1995 version – mainly because I’d never really ‘assigned’ mental portraits of the characters in my mind before I saw that. I remember being initially put off by Ehle’s rather solid-looking Elizabeth, but got over it soon enough!

      And I don’t mind you discussing only JA. You’re more than welcome! You know JA’s work so well (definitely better than me, at any rate); what do you think of the other cinematic adaptations of her novels? Which do you think work best?


      • I don’t know how popular adapting Premchand would be today, because farmer/village stories are hardly the subject of contemporary bollywood films. Especially as the films will have a lot of suffering families etc which the modern affluent audience will not bear.

        >(definitely better than me, at any rate);
        *blush* I don’t think so :)

        Around the time of P&P 1995 there were a couple of excellent adaptations of Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility (Emma THompson), but after that the adaptations tried to get in more and more audience by trying to suit the taste of a modern younger audience, language wise and the character of heroines like Fanny in Mansfieldpark – These were produced for the ITV UK television and were real horrors IMO.
        I love the bunch of BBC adaptations of the 80s very
        much. Very theatrical, but that’s fine with me. I pretend I’m watching a play :) The language is perfect, and somehow the characters chosen fit the description in the book (and in my mind :-)


        • Oh, I remember watching that version of Mansfield Park and cringing at Fanny. Yes, that was horrid. Others have also recommended Persuasion (you did too, I think), but I haven’t got around to watching it yet.
          Now that I think of it, I don’t recall seeing too many BBC adaptations from the 80s. Pride and Prejudice, yes; but none other that I remember.

          “somehow the characters chosen fit the description in the book (and in my mind :-))

          After Harvey mentioned that, and some of us concurred on how the appreciation of a film as an adaptation depended also on how well it coincided with its ‘image’ in readers’ minds, I was reminded of an interesting anecdote. My teenaged niece watched Inkheart, having already read and loved the book – and she was thoroughly disappointed with it, because, as she said, “How could they choose Brendan Fraser to play Mo?! He just isn’t the person I’d imagined as Mo!”

          I watched Inkheart later, and read it only last year – and liked it, both as a book and as a film adaptation.

          And now, the punchline… the author of the Inkheart trilogy, Cornelia Funke, had specifically requested for Fraser to play Mo, because she had created the character of Mo with Fraser in mind! :-)


      • A recent film that has been commended – shown at the Venice FF last year is Anne Ghode da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse). I haven’t been able to see it yet but it is an adaptation of one my favourite novelists- Gurdial Singh, who writes in Punjabi.


        • Thank you for that recommendation, bawa. I’ve just been looking it up, and I see it got three National Awards, too. It’s sad that in India regional films, unless they’re the Rajnikanth-type ones, rarely get talked about outside of the ‘cinema literati’ (or whatever – I hope you get the idea!) circles. Everyday fans like us, even if we like good cinema, may get to know of them only accidentally.


  11. Just when I was about to go to sleep, I stumble across this question that I can’t resist answering. Oh, well. Good post, by the way,

    I used to read and write a lot of science fiction and fantasy back in my youth, so I can contribute some thoughts on films in these genres vs. the books. Actually, off the top off my head, I can think of a few films that were better than the books they were based on:

    I thought that Blade Runner was actually much better than the Philip K. Dick book it was based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which wasn’t one of the most interesting books that I’d read. Here, all the credit should go to the director, Ridley Scott. Ironically, the style of this 1982 film, though it was based on a 1968 novel, was much closer to that of the 1984 William Gibson Novel, Neuromancer, which launched the “Cyberpunk” genre. Other people have commented on that, too. (By the way, there was once an article about experimental science fiction in the late 80s called “Beyond Cyberpunk: The New Science Fiction Underground.” And I was one of the people mentioned, for some small press stories that were found by the article writer, John Shirley. But I wouldn’t show those stories to anyone today. :) )

    Another film that was much better than the novel was The Man Who Fell To Earth, which came out in the late 1970s. The novel was boring. The film was good mainly because they picked a perfect star to play the alien – David Bowie.

    The Shining was an excellent movie, and I thought it was better than the Stephen King book. Well, I always thought Stephen King was a bit overrated as a writer. And in the world of films, Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson both rated higher in my “book.”

    I’d like to discuss more vintage stuff, but that might be more difficult because there were some good horror or science fiction films based on excellent novels, but they weren’t very faithful to them. Should the films be criticized for not being faithful to the novels? Classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein come to mind. Actually, there was a film based on an H.G. Wells story that was pretty good as a straightforward telling of the tale, though I think it did stray from the original in some places… That was the 1960 film The Time Machine. (The guy who played H.G. Wells was Rod Taylor; he was good.) I liked the film and I liked the book. Though H.G. Wells had quite a few mediocre films made out of his books too, I think. (Adhi Raat Ke Baad was obviously partially based on Wells’ The Invisible man, and it was not very good, outside of the dancing by Ragini. BTW, I’m glad I was able to get at least one Bollywood film into this long comment.)


    • I love the interesting contributions people are making to this discussion – and thank you for your insights, Richard! I wasn’t too interested in sci fi or fantasy (except for the ‘classic science fiction’ – Wells and Verne) until I got married. My husband’s very fond of both genres, and while I’m still not especially clued into too much science fiction, I love fantasy. Unfortunately, none of the books or films you’ve mentioned in those first couple of paragraphs ring a bell (except Blade Runner, which I’ve heard of, even seen bits of).

      I would like to read some of those early stories of yours! But I know what you mean – there are some bits of work from my early years as a writer that I wouldn’t want anyone to read now. ;-)

      Somehow, while I’ve read a fair bit of Stephen King (thanks to a friend who’s a King fanatic), I’ve actually seen very few films of his. Offhand, the only one I can recall is The Mist – which, since I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment on, as far as its being a good adaptation is concerned.

      Your point about vintage sci fi reminded me of some versions that I’ve seen and read, and I do agree that they were mostly pretty bad adaptations. (They still haven’t got around to doing justice to either Journey to the Centre of the Earth or War of the Worlds. I do recall two good TV series that were pretty faithful to the original books: one was The Invisible Man, and the other was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


  12. Thanks for your always interesting writing. I didn’t think “Sound of Music” was actually based on a novel. The musical was based on a German film version of Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” I found the book fairly interesting mainly to compare the real life story with the musical. She really did come out of a convent to be the governess and there really was a countess involved with the Captain. The family did flee from the Nazis to the United States. Some of their early concerts were not well recieved due to the inclusion of too many classical pieces, but they gained popularity by adding more folk songs. My lasting impression was that it was actually Maria who was rigid and dictatorial rather than the Captain. There is a nice clip on youtube of Julie Andrews and Maria singing together.


    • Thank you, kenjn60! I’m glad you found this post interesting.

      Your comment made me want to slap my forehead for agreeing with Samir that nobody had mentioned adaptations of non-fiction. Of course, Maria von Trapp’s account of her family and its adventures would be autobiographical, not a novel.

      Thank you for telling me about the clip of Julie Andrews and Maria singing together. I’ve just found a clip (part 1 of 2) and am off to watch it now. Here it is, for anyone who’s interested:


  13. @kenjn60: Thanks ever so much for telling me about the Julie-Maria clip! I loved their yodelling session, and I loved Maria’s reminiscences even more – especially her recollections of trying to learn English. :-)

    Here is part 2:

    … and what a lovely voice Maria had, even at that age. Julie’s is sweeter, but Maria’s is more full-throated, I think.


  14. Madhu, another series that were based on a book, and *both* were equally good (for different reasons) was the Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister series.

    Malayalam films have borrowed heavily from literature, and to a large extent, have been better than HIndi films in staying true to the original source – *even if* they had ‘superstars’ playing the main roles.


    • Yes, Anu – AKM mentioned Yes Minister in a comment too. I don’t remember reading the book(s), but the series was fabulous – both Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.


  15. Great post, Madhu! One movie that comes to my mind is Rebecca – they changed the ending. While Mrs. Danvers looked exactly the way I imagined she would look, Jasper was right for the role, but changing the ending was unexpected for me. They did get the atmosphere right, and included the scene where the little figurine gets broken but left out the scene where she said she wished she were forty years old, in a black dress with pearls around her neck. Or maybe I have forgotten, but those were the most memorable lines in that movie, I thought.
    Khilona, Kaajal, Kati Patang, Neel Kamal were all based on books by Gulshan Nanda. However, it has been almost fifty years since I read the books, and about forty years since I saw the movies, so I cannot tell which was better. Neel kamal was a big disappointment, though, with a comedy line that I did not remember coming across in the book.
    After seeing Bimal Roy’s Devdas, I read the Saratchandra novel in Hindi, and it was apparent that the dialogs had been lifted directly from the book – the script writer apparently took the easy route, or else he decided that it was the way to remain true to the book.
    I think I understood Dr. Zhivago better after reading the book, so I thought I would read “War and Peace:” and then watch the movie. Sad to say, I could never go beyond the first twenty pages in the book, and the movie was no better – about half an hour is the most I have ever managed, despite it having Audrey Hepburn in the cast!


    • Lalitha, I was thinking of including Rebecca in the ‘Goodies’ section when I was writing this post, then realised that while I’ve reviewed the film on this blog (and liked it a lot), it had been a very, very long time since I’d read the book, so I didn’t really remember how true (or not) it was to Du Maurier’s book. But I do recalled that they changed the ending.

      Ava had also mentioned Kati Patang as being based on a Gulshan Nanda novel – which surprised me, because I’d always thought it was based on the Barbara Stanwyck starrer No Man of Her Own, which was adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich. But if you’ve read the original novel, then I guess you’d know better.

      I have never had the courage to read Devdas: the film itself is too depressing for me to want to read the book!

      War and Peace? Just twenty pages? Ouch. And here I was thinking I should finally start reading it and then review the film (which, unlike you, I liked quite a bit. Not in the beginning, because it takes time to get going – but later). Maybe that plan will have to be put on the back burner for a while.


  16. I am enjoying this post a lot, the main article & the comments from others are really good.
    Humor is probably the hardest to translate to screen, and I am glad I was reminded of Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister by AKM & Anu. Absolutely concur with them that is one of greatest, if not the greatest, adaptations.
    Another good one in this category that includes vacation homes in the countryside, rural local populace, and wines & good food [How can I comment without bringing this in :)] is
    “A Year In Provence”. The book as well as the BBC mini-series is highly recommended, Peter Mayle is such a wonderful author.


      • Samir, bless you! I adore Peter Mayle’s style of writing, and had no idea A Year in Provence – my favourite of all his books I’ve read till now – had been televised. Now I know what I need to order next! Thank you.


  17. (Longwinded again, but )

    I can’t vouch for the accuracy (my English instructor’s tale), but apparently RK Narayan went public, saying that he would have been happy with the movie if only it did not have the same name as his novel. A young Indira Gandhi dashed off a letter to him, accusing him being an old fogey who should have been grateful that his novel had gathered the extra publicity due to a superhit movie. The wrote back a terse reply, asking her to read the novel. To his surprise, he received a handwritten apology from Ms Gandhi, sticking to the stance that the movie was superb, but admitting that it did not qualify as a version of his novel.

    There should be a mention of movies you can never ever bear to watch because of what they could have done to the book :- King’s Hearts in Atlantis is one. I can’t imagine how the surrealism of the book can be a linear movie. And to round off, if you read the original paperback of “Different Seasons”, it originally highlighted a typical King horror story on the cover : Apt Pupil. I never came across the movie. One story from the 4, however, is one of my all time favourites ( and very faithful too) : The Shawshank Redemption


    • That’s an interesting tale about Mrs Gandhi vs Narayan. Hah. Had never heard of that, but I do wonder why she should’ve leaped to the front as a champion of Navketan.

      And you’ve reminded me of yet another film I need to watch. I really liked The Shawshank Redemption (the book), but haven’t seen the film. Now that you’ve vouched for its resemblance to the book, I must put it on my list. Thanks.


  18. Terrific post, Anu! I was rapt from beginning to end – and thoroughly enjoyed the discussion after, which brought to mind a lot of dearly beloved movie adaptations – notably Persepolis and Sense and Sensibility. The former, I think, benefited immensely from having Marjane Satrapi – the author – at the helm: she co-directed it with Vincent Paronnaud, and the movie had the same eye for detail, the same deft blend of poignancy and whimsy, the same “plasticity”. And the latter, because it was all the things you mentioned. A solid script – Emma Thomson did such a solid job – *and* delivered probably two of the finest awards’ acceptance speeches in the history of movies: at the Baftas and the Oscars. (YouTube has them both!) A remarkable director – Ang Lee never ceases to amaze me with both his versatility (he went from Crouching Tiger to this to Brokeback Mountain to Eros to Hulk….) and his passion for storytelling. And a really fine ensemble cast that does the heart good to watch – from Alan Rickman to Hugh Laurie, they all perform so well!

    But my favourite all-time adaptation (almost against my will) has to be The English Patient. The book – which I adore, like most of Michael Ondaatje’s writing – plays havoc with linearity, reveals itself in loops and allusions powered by outstanding writing one would imagine exasperatingly unadaptable (including a three-page account of the winds of the northern hemisphere that was quite literally breathtaking: I forgot to exhale until I finished that section). But Antony Minghella, who adapted it himself (in close association with MO), defied all expectations and transposed the brittleness, the poetry of this elegiac, coruscating love story, which is more than that, it’s a meditation on the different kinds of morality that hold our lives in sway, through war and peace; the things that keep us sane and that which we sacrifice. He develops shades to characters that are only hinted at in the book, cuts some back stories to make it more, well, dynamic for celluloid, and peoples it with characters who are deeply flawed, yet irresistible. I can’t call it alchemy because the base material was immense. But it’s *transformation* of a near magical order: turning moonbeams into moonstone, something like that. Oh, and that 3-page soliloquy on winds? Minghella actually kept it, he fashioned it into an erotic little tête-à-tête in a sandstorm, if I remember right. Perhaps the greatest compliment came from Michael Ondaatje himself, he said that he couldn’t remember anymore what came from the book and what from the film.

    Closer to Indian cinema, Deepa Mehta’s Earth I found to be a very astute adaptation of Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy Man, all the more so because it does away with a rather anticlimactic epilogue (perhaps needed for more of an adult view of the vicissitudes of the world and time). The movie stops with sickening and violent suddenness that is all the more frightening because the rest of the violence in the film is only hinted at.

    Gosh, I’d better stop – I’ve been going on and on!


    • I don’t mind you going on and on, Karthika – that was a very enlightening comment, really. Unlike Anu, I haven’t seen Persepolis and remember Sense and Sensibility in bits and pieces… and The English Patient, while I did watch it, was seen too long ago, and literally forced down my throat by somebody who adored it and pushed it on to me and kept asking me “Have you seen it? Have you seen it?” every couple of days after that, till the point where I saw it just to be able to say yes, I had seen it. I’m afraid I didn’t like it very much – perhaps also a result of the fact that I was much younger at the time and lacked the emotional maturity to understand a film of that depth. Perhaps i should watch it now, after reading the book.

      I agree re: Earth and Ice Candy Man: that was a very good adaptation of the book – I saw the film and followed it up immediately by reading the book, and was very impressed by the way in which it had been translated to the screen.


      • What a coincidence, Madhu: I couldn’t even sit through The English Patient the first time I saw it (though that might have also been the fact it was on a long-haul flight)! It actually took reading the book several years later (after I first discovered Ondaatje as a poet) to tempt me to watch the movie, despite scepticism on full throttle since I was sure nothing could match the book. And indeed, they are more fraternal twins than identical but the differences make complete sense, and it’s difficult to imagine how else it would translate on celluloid.

        Oh, another adaptation I found very affecting was Neal Jordan’s 1999 version of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Very fine performances, with all the moral complexity intact in the screenplay. Also, an early David Copperfield I’d seen as a child, though I cannot remember which one it was.

        The worst, for me, has to be Mistress of Spices. The book was annoying and twee to begin with, the movie was the highest degree of refined torture: Aishwarya Rai murmuring, “Talk to me, Chilli,” left me with a barely controllable urge to throw something hard at the screen. Why did I see it? I think I went with an Indophile friend, probably someone I have avoided since that day!


        • All right, you’ve convinced me, Karthika: I will, someday, read The English Patient and watch the film again. Perhaps a second-time viewing (after I’ve read the book) will be more satisfying. Right now, I remember the film in snatches, none of them too coherent.

          Your recollection of the David Copperfield reminded me that I saw a very good TV series of Great Expectations as a child – and a good one of Little Dorrit a few months back, starring Matthew MacFadyen and Claire Foy.

          Mistress of Spices I’ve neither read nor seen (just the fact that it starred Aishwarya Rai put me off). Thank you for assuring me I didn’t miss anything!


            • Little Dorrit is one I never finished reading either – but watching the miniseries has made me want to read it, even though it is typically Dickens: bleak and grim and not “too cheery”, as my sister puts it!


  19. On a positive note, Peter Davison made an excellent Albert Campion in several 2-part adaptations of some of Allingham’s books. I really thought they nailed 3 of the 4 I saw, but the challenge of good casting for Amanda Fitton proved beyond them in Sweet Danger, they went with Lysette Anthony and that was just too much wrongness for me to handle.


    • That sounds interesting! I’ve read some of the Albert Campion stories, but never seen any adaptations. Will look out for Davison’s version.

      Your mention of Campion reminded me of a similar character – Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey. Back in the late 80s, there was a very good TV series called A Dorothy L Sayers Mystery, which starred Edward Petherbridge as Peter Wimsey. An excellent adaptation.


      • A little OT, but it seems that Campion started as a Wimpey clone, but grew into something quite different and deeper. I read almost all the Campion stories in my late teens and now have them on my Kindle to work through again. It’s gratifying to see that they still read as well now as they did then.


        • I have absolutely no recollection of the Campion stories, other than remembering that I have read some. Wimsey I’ve read more recently, as well – just a couple of years back, when I borrowed a couple of books from my sister’s collection.


  20. Talking of adaptations of literary works, I remembered that fairy tales have long been a favourite source for inspiration… especially the story of Beauty and the Beast. I used to think, till about six months ago, that my favourite version of Beauty and the Beast was Cocteau’s La belle et le bête, until I found a Czech film from the late 70s, named Panna a Netvor.

    Panna a Netvor is a much darker version than the usual dramatisation, and – unusually – the Beast wears a raptor-like mask with a huge beak. It hides all his expressions, but the actor (Vlastimil Harapes) had such superb body language that he could convey a lot even with that impediment. (I learnt later that Harapes was one of the leading ballet dancers of Czechoslovakia – that probably had something to do with his ability to ‘speak’ through his movements).

    Any thoughts on fairytales or other folktales that have been well (or badly) adapted?


    • Cocteau’s La Belle et la bête is a favourite! Thank you for the tip on Panna a Netvor, it sounds fascinating.

      Murnau’s Faust – if it qualifies? It was very impressive, special effects and all – I mean, even by today’s standards, I felt.


      • I suppose Faust would qualify. Haven’t seen the one you mention, but will certainly look out for it! I find fairy tales quite fascinating, so like watching different versions of them – even modernised ones. Of course, I (more often than I’d like) end up watching frightful versions. The recent – last year? – film, Beastly, an adaptation set in a high school, did its name justice.


        • Speaking of adaptations set in high-schools, the only one I have liked is Ten Things I Hate About You (a very fizzy version of Taming of the Shrew). It made the misogyny more apparent in the beginning, there was no false piousness involved in the ‘Taming’, and Bianca was satisfyingly teenagerly, instead of being a paragon. And the Heath Ledger/Julia Stiles characters were well-written for a rom-com. Besides, there was a lot of parity between them, none of the “I shall obey my beloved” rubbish.

          But that’s not a fairy/folk tale, so I digress…

          I saw the Beastly trailer and resolved to stay away!


          • I watched (for the first time) Ten Things I Hate About You, and I actually liked it much more than I thought I would. And yes, I did think it was a good modernised adaptation of a classic. (By the way, I’ve also seen the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton The Taming of the Shrew, and while it does have the original dialogues, fancy costumes and settings, etc, it somehow failed to click with me. Partly because both Taylor and Burton were a little too old for their roles, I think…)

            And you’re not really digressing, because you’re still on the topic of film adaptations of books or other literary works.

            You did well to stay away from Beastly. The book isn’t bad, but the film version is pretty awful – and the acting of both Pettyfer and Hudgens was terrible.


            • Thanks for reminding me of the Burton-Taylor Taming of the Shrew, I saw it on Doordarshan long ago… it completely slipped my mind. It was rather grandly staged, as you said, but it is a play I’ve always been a little uneasy with … the excess of recommended docility gets my goat – and Katherine’s shrewishness seemed entirely defensible, given how dim-witted most of the people around her were. I think I liked Ten Things I Hate About You so much because it had a believable equation between the leads, and not so much ‘Taming’, as accepting, if I’m making any sense (I somehow felt William Shakespeare would approve).

              Among Shakespearian adaptations, Joseph Mankiewicz’ Julius Caesar is a big favourite! Lots of fire and brimstone and very satisfactory funeral speeches! A devious Cassius and tortured Brutus … all my favourite flawed heroes :)


              • I agree with you about “the excess of recommended docility” – that got my goat too. And also about the ‘acceptance’ rather than ‘taming’ in Ten Things I Hate About You – more believable without being irritating.

                Haven’t seen the Mankiewicz Julius Caesar – but I’ll keep an eye out for it, since that’s my favourite Shakespeare play. Thank you for the recommendation!


  21. I was suddenly reminded of a cartoon that was in a magazine long ago. Two women are sitting in a cinema watching a movie. On screen a wedding is taking place, the couple is walking down the aisle. One woman turns to the other and says “Of course in the book, they never actually meet!”


    • Hehe. That’s so true, actually. Looking back at films like Rebecca, And Then There Were None or Von Ryan’s Express, it’s easy to see that the film makers are trying to pander to what they think will be more acceptable to audiences.


  22. Nice observations. I don’t watch Hollywood movies, though, so I won’t be able to comment. Just asking – where would you put Guide? :D Let me guess, baddies? :P


    • Yessss…. sort of. Several of us have discussed Guide in the comments above, and various views have been discussed – whether or not it’s a good adaptation, whether or not one likes the novel and/or the film, and so on. I personally don’t really like either the novel or the film (other than its songs), and don’t think Guide is a good adaptation of the book, anyway.

      P.S. And, by the way: the post isn’t just about Hollywood; if you read it, you’ll find references to both Hollywood as well as international cinema – including Hindi cinema. One of my examples of a ‘Goodie’ is a French/Italian film.


      • Oops. Maybe I should’ve read the comments. I don’t really see it as an adaptation since I haven’t read the novel and at first I thought the idea was Goldie’s. He changed some stuff. I am utterly confused about one thing though – when Dev asked Goldie to direct it, the latter was horrified because of something in the book. I dunno, is it Raju actually wooing Rosie even though she’s married? Cause in the film Rosie did have a reason to divorce Marco.

        But the songs were awesome (See, that’s why old Hindi film adaptations are good – they have songs! :D). I like this film cause it was my first introduction to the pre-70’s Dev. (Yes, I watched Johny Mera Naam on TV – that was my introduction to him. If it weren’t for Guide I’d probably be sitting somewhere and watcing Gambler instead.) Oh, and at first I thought his puff was weird! (Don’t ask me why! But I love his puff now! Hehehe!)

        Oh, and I saw the word ‘Goodie’ as Goldie. Okay. I’m nutty. :D


        • Oh, it’s certainly an adaptation (and credited too), but – as you can see from some comments – not a very faithful adaptation.

          Yes, the fact that Rosie has a good reason to divorce Marco (or at least leave him) is – as far as I remember – only in the film. From what I recall, her husband in the book isn’t half as nasty a character as Marco is made out to be.


          • Really?! :O I didn’t see the credits. Wait. My VCD is so nutty it cut out the credits. e_e Damn you, Shemaroo.

            Ah. I also read a review of Guide online. And the person said that in the novel, why Raju became a guide was explained. They left that out in the film. They had to. >_>” Why did he become a guide anyway? And I read all about the controversy because Rosie left Marco and went to live with Raju. Heard of seperate rooms, people? ._.” They even wanted to get filming halted. But Dev managed to convince the cabinet. Yay Dev.

            Wonder what they’d have done if they saw this Chikni Chameli video. Ugh. I can’t even look at the screen when they show it. My eyes burn. Did you see my rant post on my blog? Wonder what Baburao Patel would say about this obscene video.


  23. This is a great topic and joining in late I’m sorry if my recommendations are already mentioned (most probably at least two are)

    To Kill A Mockingbird – this is an all time fave novel and a very good film adaptation. Atticus Finch is one of my first fiction crushes and Gregory Peck does such a good job is that I started liking the actor too.

    Godfather (I&II) – The novel is very good and the films do it justice.

    Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee version) – This is one of the best literary adaptations condensed into a film. I like it almost as much as I like the novel. And yes Kandokoundain Kandokoundain is also a very good adaptation. Aishwarya Rai suprised me as how good she is as Marianne – I think she is as good as Winslet in the role (and it remains my favorite performance of hers to this day)

    Jane Eyre (Zefirelli version) – This one omitted the later half of the novel but the imagery and both Jane(s) Anna Paquin and Charlotte Gainsborough are so good that I have found myself impressed by it. I wonder why there isn’t a TV series for this novel. It sure deserves a good one (in the caliber of 1995 Pride and Prejudice – most favorite adaptation of the novel. The others just don’t do it justice and I dislike the latest one in which Donald Sutherland acts as Mr.Bennet)

    Clueless – this Hollywood film truly suprised me in being the best Emma adaptation I have seen. It is very much like the novel but also very Hollywood. Sometimes things just click right and in this film, they do.

    Reading is my favorite medium and if I have to choose between books and films I’d choose the former without even have to think. But it is very good that we don’t have to.


    • Thank you for commenting, Eliza! I’d hoped this topic would be interesting, because I do know that a number of people who frequent this blog don’t just like films, they also like to read. And I’ve got a lot of great leads from the comments here (and some warnings!)

      Except for Jane Eyre and Clueless, all the films you’ve mentioned have also been praised by others, and To Kill a Mockingbird (which I must confess to having neither read nor seen) seems to be universally appreciated. I must read and see that soon!

      The only version of Jane Eyre that I’ve seen so far has been the Orson Welles-Joan Fontaine one, of which I have sketchy memories. I don’t think it was very faithful to the book, at least in the second half. Will have to watch it again to make a judgement on that! My parents saw Sangdil not too far back, and said that was quite a good adaptation of Jane Eyre.

      Talking of classic novels adapted to the screen, I must mention the the TV miniseries, Wuthering Heights, starring Robert Cavanah as Heathcliff (it was also Matthew MacFadyen’s debut, as far as I recall) – a very good adaptation of the novel, evoking all the wildness and passion and selfishness and other emotions that rule the lives of Heathcliff, Catherine and those around them.


    • There ia a 1983 TV mini- series of Jane Eyre with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke, which is my favourite adaptation of the book.
      Timothy Dalton is good as Rochester though some argue he was too handsome, but the debate goes on to say at that time dark men were not considered handsome (as opposed to Rivers) and that it didn’t mean he couldn’t be as Tim looked :D
      Zelah was fine I thought though some say ‘too mature looking’ but I didn’t think so. One can imagine maturity coming to her at an early age.

      Wuthering Heights is a book I hate, though I did watch one adaptation, and can’t say much about it because I’ve forgotten who acted in it and the year.
      Sangdil and Dil Diya Dard Liya being the Indian adaptations, both with Dilip Kumar.
      The ending in the latter is drastically changed though they kept the spirit to some extent. I didn’t mind this because Heathcliffe’s character played by DK isn’t so strange or repulsive.

      I too think Emma thompson’s Sense and Sensibility to be the best adaptation of the book. The fact that a lot was left out (one very very crucial point in the stoiry) and some things put in didn’t spoil anything.
      The best part of these adaptations for me have been the visiting of the locations, and going to Norland Park, Cleveland and spending a weekend at Barton cottage. Heavenly. So for me this particular S&S will always be the best :)

      Emma being my favourite novel, I can’t really make up my mind about which adaptation is the best (there are 4, not including the modern versions).
      The 1972 miniseries is the best for me.
      Davies’ interpretation of Emma’s character is severe so she doesn’t come out that good in his 1996 adaptation.
      I prefer the adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow to the Davies’ one, also 1996.
      People feel the former is truer to the book, but I can point out an equal number of changes as in the latter making them stand at the same level with people prefering the one they have *imagined in their heads*.
      The 2009 adaptation had the same problems of an Emma with a modern body language, and watered down dialogues.


      • Thank you for telling me about the Dalton-Clarke version of Jane Eyre, pacifist; I’d never heard of it, but will certainly look out for it now. Though yes, I’d think Dalton too good-looking to be a convincing Rochester – not that i mind! ;-)

        Mmm. I like the Paltrow Emma too, but I must admit I haven’t seen any of the others – so maybe I should restrict my energies to trying to find the miniseries, considering that’s the one you recommend most. Thank you!

        I confess to not liking Wuthering Heights either. It’s too dark and grim for me, and the two lead characters are just too hateful for me. Yes, I know one need not like the characters in order to appreciate a book or film, and anyway there are reasons for how Heathcliff and Catherine behave… but they’re just too nasty for me.


        • The 1983 was very close to the book. There were many versions of this later on, but this remains my favourite because of it being quite bookish.

          I love the way the first episode starts exactly as in the book with it’s first line;

          “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day……..”

          Here’s the first part of the first episode.

          >so maybe I should restrict my energies to trying to find the miniseries, considering that’s the one you recommend most.

          I must warn you though my taste is quite satisfied even if the adaptation is (as I wrote above) bookish, and gets theatrical. THe mini series of Emma is one of them. But I love it. THe perfect Mr Woodhouse if ever there was.

          Another warning.
          Mr Knightley is rather long in the tooth here, but the initial misgivings and putting offs soon disappear because of his excellent acting. Remember it’s a 1972 adaptation.

          It’s the perfect ‘evening at home’, ‘drawing room’ watch in your own private theatre. Long dialogues are rattled off with ease.
          There are flaws of course. This Emma looks strerner than Gwenyth Paltrow who I thought was nearly perfect as Emma.

          Here’s the first part of the first episode.


          • Thank you, pacifist (And for letting me know that ‘Mr Knightley is rather long in the tooth!) – I somehow always associate Jeremy Northam with Mr Knightley, so that may not go down well with me. ;-) But thank you, and also for the links – I’ll certainly see the series. Someday.


  24. Madhu, some recommendations here: (these were really, really good adaptations)
    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    Sophie’s Choice (I preferred the book)
    All the King’s Men
    O Brother, Where Art Thou (Loosely based on the Odyssey)
    The 39 Steps
    Il Gattopardo
    The Prime of Miss Brodie
    Great Expectations
    The Unbearable Lightness of Being (if you haven’t read or seen this, do both)
    Stand by Me

    and of course Sense and Sensibility, and Persepolis.

    As an aside, did you know that director Rajiv Menon insisted that Kandukondein Kandukondein was *not* an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility? (It was a frame-by frame copy!) Much the same way that Chitra Palekar insisted that Kachi Dhoop was based on the story of her childhood with her siblings, when *any* of us who had read Little Women during that period could have told her which scene was going to come next!


    • Anu, thank you for those! Except for a few, I’ve not seen and/or read most of these, so there’s a lot of catching up to be done here for me (when? how?!!) I remember you recommending Il Gattopardo earlier…

      I see we disagree on one thing, though – whether or not The 39 Steps was a good adaptation. (I’ve listed it at the end of my ‘Baddies’ section). The 39 Steps was one of the first Hitchcock films I saw – when I was about 12 – and simply loved it. So, when I got the chance to read Buchan’s novel a few years later, I leapt at it – and was surprised to discover that it was actually quite different from the film. I liked both a lot (though I have forgotten most of the novel), but I didn’t think of the film as much of an adaptation except for the very basic skeleton of the plot.

      I’ve forgotten Kachi Dhoop! :-( I know I’ve seen it, but only the name remains in my head, nothing else. :-(


  25. Thank you for the recommendation. I’m ashamed to say that Wuthering Heights is one of the three novels I was not able to finish. But I’m planning on giving it another go and I sure will keep the tv series in mind.

    “As an aside, did you know that director Rajiv Menon insisted that Kandukondein Kandukondein was *not* an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility?”

    Maybe he has not read it, never heard of it and someone else pitched him the plot (this is the only explanation I can think of)

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being is not a book I liked and certainly this dislike carried on to the film – although I do like Daniel Day Lewis and Juliette Binoche. But then again I’m one of the few people who never really cared about Milan Kundera’s work.


    • Eliza, I think it would very difficult to belong to Rajiv Menon’s generation in India and *not* have read Sense and Sensibility – if only in school. We were brought up with these books. And seriously, to believe that of the entire cast and crew of the film, not having even one person notice that is asking even me to stretch my imagination beyond belief. :)

      Rajiv is a Malayali director – believe me, ‘m not being parochial when I say that *most* Malayalis would have read Jane Austen in its original, if not in its Malayalam translation.


      • And seriously, to believe that of the entire cast and crew of the film, not having even one person notice that is asking even me to stretch my imagination beyond belief. :)

        Anu, I had to leap in and interrupt with this little tidbit I’d read somewhere about Bride and Prejudice trivia: that Aishwarya Rai, who’d never read Pride and Prejudice, didn’t read it even to prepare for her role in this film, because she didn’t want it to interfere with the way she was going to be playing the character.

        So… maybe not beyond belief! ;-)


        • Must say I’m surprised that Rai hadn’t read Pride and Prejudice. But I would still hold to my belief that asking me to believe that no one on the sets knew it was an adaptation, is still asking me to stretch my imagination to a point that it will break
          Rajiv Menon’s defence was totally disingenuous since *he* wrote the screenplay. After which, he can’t really claim that it was his own story – or, yes, he can claim it, but he cannot blame anyone for telling him to his face that he is lying.

          That said, the movie itself has much to recommend it. The acting is top-notch, with Mammotty, Tabu and even Ash sharing honours, with Ajith, Abbas, and Sri Vidya providing able support.


            • Madhu, honest confession? I hated Kandukondein Kandukondein – I came out wanting to tear my hair out, one strand at a time. This, despite the fact that the acting was rather decent. If that contradicts what I said before, I can only say ‘I’m contradictory that way. I’m allowed to hate a movie even if people act well.” :(


              • Anu, I think I can understand. Confessions of an iconoclast: I watched Citizen Kane, having heard so much about how critically acclaimed it was and all that, and while I thought the acting (and the direction) was very good, I didn’t like the film. Certanly not enough to want to watch it again.


  26. I am not a purist (guess you knew that already). I really don’t mind if the director or screenwriter play fast and loose with the book. Here’s my quick list of adaptations (in no order):

    1. Pride and Prejudice (2005): I do love the BBC version but the 2005 is just so beautifully done, it triumphs.

    2. Maqbool: I really enjoyed Vishal Bhardwaj’s take on Macbeth; his Othello/Omkara left me unimpressed.

    3. A thousand acres: An reinterpretation more than an adaptation of King Lear. And while we are talking about Lear, Kurosawa’s Ran is magnificent.

    4. Five Little Pigs (The TV Series – Agatha Christie’s Poirot): There are some changes but the conclusion is the same as the book. This adaptation did a fabulous job of evoking the characters and the past. Highly recommended!

    5. Apocalypse Now: Brilliant on all counts. It is so different from the Heart of Darkness and yet so similar.

    6. The Innocents: A wonderful adaptation of James’s The Turn of the Screw. The famous over-the-shoulder POV masterfully highlights the real tension in the book.

    Oh, there are just so many of them :-)

    But I haven’t seen a Wuthering Heights adaptation that I liked although I did like some parts of the 1998 Masterpiece Theater adaptation. I plan to see Jacques Rivette’s version — hopefully this will be interesting.


      • No, I didn’t – I’ve hardly watched any TV in the last 15 years or so. ;-) Was it this one, at the Golden Globe?

        … an amazingly witty piece of work which has lost nothing in the many years since it was first penned and spoken at that gathering. :-) Thank you for telling me about that! Loved it.


    • I am soon going to have to create a list of everything everybody’s recommended on this page – and then I’ll have to figure out how to go about finding time to read all those books and watch all those films! (especially as there are some I’ve read or seen too long ago to remember much of – Five Little Pigs is an example; never seen, and read too long back).

      The Innocents occurred to me when you mentioned it. Ah, yes. So good! :-)


  27. “There ia a 1983 TV mini- series of Jane Eyre with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke, which is my favourite adaptation of the book.
    Timothy Dalton is good as Rochester though some argue he was too handsome, but the debate goes on to say at that time dark men were not considered handsome (as opposed to Rivers) and that it didn’t mean he couldn’t be as Tim looked :D
    Zelah was fine I thought though some say ‘too mature looking’ but I didn’t think so. One can imagine maturity coming to her at an early age.”

    Thank you for this recommendation. Timothy Dalton is not the type of man that rocks my boat (neither for that matter is Mr.Rochester) so I have no trouble there.
    And I do agree with you that Jane probably matured very early, not just pyschologically but also physically. And she is definitely described as “plain” in the book. That is one of the reasons I liked Charlotte Gainsbrough as Jane. She is not a pretty woman but a naturally talented actor and they applied heavy make up on her (sadly this is visible but didn’t bother me) to make her look paler/older.

    I have just watched Five Little Pigs and even though I like both Poirot and Marple adaptations to me they are nowhere near as good as the books.

    I’m very impressed with Bhardwaj’s Othello but Maqbool (although a very good film) left me cold as an adaptation. My main problem is that Maqbool in the film is already devoid of ethics and values so his betrayal didn’t make that much of an impact on me and the mistress/illicit love affair angle didn’t work for me – one of the points of the original work that stood out -in my eyes- is that Lady Macbeth’s ambitions and ruthlessness are especially chilling with the facade she presents. Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is the Macbeth adaptation I prefer – and I’d highly recommend regardless of its value as an adaptation.


  28. BTW, Madhu, just wanted to let you know that my next set of songs for Great Indian Talent are up for grabs on you tube :-)

    Click on my name and you will see one of those.


  29. Hey, Dustedoff! :D Long time no talk! I’ve been really busy since high school has started and I’m in the early college program! I really should be studying for a science test right now but ehh. xD I’ve been messing around on the internet all afternoon. I know I’ve commented on this before but I’ve actually seen more films, so yeah, on to more ranting.
    Aww, you don’t like A Damsel in Distress? I loooooooved it! It’s one of my favorite Fred films, actually! :D I am so obsessed with Fred Astaire right now it’s killing me. Everyone just says, “Yeah he can dance but so what he’s not even handsome?” Well, ‘scuse me, I think he’s very attractive. I mean, well-dressed, charming, sings, dances, terribly romantic – I’m satisfied! :D I have reached that level of delirium in my obsession with him that I think he’s very, very, very – dare I say it? – handsome. (No but seriously, the way he pulls off that fedora and necktie in the “Shorty George” song from You Were Never Lovelier killed me!)
    But I digress. Sorry. xD I loved A Damsel in Distress because I thought it was hilarious! George Burns and Gracie Allen made me laugh really hard! And Fred – gah, what do I say? I loved his witty comments, like, “Perhaps it didn’t occur to you that for once, I would like to meet a girl who could stand still.” AND that part where Joan Fontaine is in his car and he’s just like, “wow stalker fangirls but this guy is following her so I’ll mess with him”. Gosh, and the way he messes with the guy. xD I laughed so hard when he smacked the police officer with the umbrella! And the way he went and sang, “I Can’t Be Bothered Now”. I LOVED him here! :D And the way he mistook the father for the gardner and stood there with a sword and said all those mean things about the father, lol! I found him adorable in that! Plus the whole shabang with “Leonard’s Leap” and oh my goodness Freddie. XD Oh my gosh please excuse all of this rambling.
    But I have to say one more thing about this film – Fred’s tap-dance solo with drums at the end basically killed me. HOW. HOWHOWHOW is a guy like that possible?!

    Anyway, don’t let this film ruin your opinion of Fred. Give him a chance, please. :D I loved him in all the films with Ginger! (I think those two were secretly married!) He’s a bit of a stalker but heck he can dance and he’s hilarious! I listen to his songs every day on my iPod.
    I certainly hope Dev doesn’t mind. :P
    Oh, and also, about Quo Vadis? – to watch, or not to watch? I’ve made it a rule to see only young Robert Taylor (’cause he was smoking hot back then) but eh, I dunno.


    • Bombaynoir, so good to ‘see’ you here again! Yes, long time no talk – you seem to have been really, really busy. (So have I, but I always make time for my blog – have to).

      Okay, the main reason I didn’t like A Damsel in Distress isn’t Fred Astaire. (By the way, it’s not as if I downright hate Astaire – I think he’s a terrific dancer – but he just lacks a certain attractiveness, in my eyes, that I like to see in a leading man. Since beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, let’s agree to disagree on Astaire’s handsomeness or not). The reason I hated A Damsel in Distress was because I’d read the Wodehouse novel when I was in my teens (perhaps earlier) and loved it to bits. It’s a hilarious book, and I was so looking forward to seeing a cinematic version. Only, the cinematic version was a total travesty. From beginning to end. It shared very little in common with the novel, which was why I hated it.

      I’d certainly suggest watching Quo Vadis. Yes, Robert Taylor looks much rugged than in his early films (all that smoking wreaked havoc with his looks), but he’s still very handsome, and the film itself is good. I reviewed it on this blog, too – one of the first films I reviewed, as a matter of fact.


      • Oh, yeah, school stuff. Heh. What have you been up to? :D

        Yeah, I get what you mean about the book being different from the movie. I guess it is a different affair when you read the book first. It’s like that with Rebecca I watched the movie first (and I love Larry, ohmygosh) and when I read the book I read all of Maxim’s lines in Larry’s voice. And Wuthering Heights, too. But it’s different with The Count of Monte Cristo ’cause I read the book for that first. I will have to check out the book of A Damsel in Distress, though! I haven’t ever read a P.G. Wodehouse story (I knowwww, it’s sacrilege!) but I’ve heard a LOT about him.
        Out of curiosity, have you seen any of Fred’s other films? :D I think his best ones were with Ginger. He’s the original stalker, haha. Stalking Ginger since 1934. And everyone in Hindi films in the 60’s did it too! (-cough- Shammi and Dev -cough-)
        Also, I totally agree about Fred being a brilliant dancer. Though a lot of people say he couldn’t sing. Psh. I think he could. He danced a lot better than he sang, of course. Like this:

        (I watched that film last night. Ugh, the ending just left me hanging.)

        All right, I will! :D Eventually, heh heh.


        • Oh, you should definitely read Wodehouse. He’s a treasure. I first began reading Wodehouse when I was about 10, I think – my father had a large collection (some of which I’ve surreptitiously acquired over the years!), and I fell in love with his writing immediately. So far, I’ve not come across a single good cinematic adaptation of Wodehouse’s work, except possibly the first couple of seasons of Jeeves and Wooster, which was pretty close in style and spirit to the original.

          I’ve seen quite a bit of Fred Astaire – Doordarshan (India’s only TV channel, back when I was a kid) used to show a lot of his movies. And, while I did like his dancing, that was about all I liked about him. ;-)

          I’ve been busy writing. I’m just about finishing work on the fourth Muzaffar Jang book. Then I have to get started on plotting another book.


  30. Madhuji, you are in august company — George Lucas (‘Star Wars’) also thought that cinematic adaptation of published work was a bad idea and insisted on working with ‘original scripts’ that he often wrote himself. All your points — time, description, insights and the need to make (judicious) changes — are relevant. ‘Pather Panchali’ and ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ in Bengali, and ‘Sara Akash’ and ‘Heera Moti’ (1959, based on Premchand’s short story entitled ‘Do Bailon ki Katha’) in Hindi come to mind immediately. Your earlier post on ‘Chemmeen’ provides another great example. Here are excerpts from a Wikipedia page on ‘2001: A space odyssey’:

    “There are a number of differences between the book and the movie. The novel, for example, attempts to explain things much more explicitly than the film does, which is inevitable in a verbal medium. …

    “Clarke and Kubrick wrote the novel and screenplay simultaneously, but while Clarke ultimately opted for clearer explanations of the mysterious monolith and Star Gate in his book, Kubrick chose to make his film more cryptic and enigmatic by keeping dialogue and specific explanations to a minimum. ‘2001’, Kubrick says, ‘is basically a visual, nonverbal experience’ that avoids the spoken word in order to reach the viewer’s subconscious in an essentially poetic and philosophic way. The film is a subjective experience which ‘hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting’.

    “How much would we appreciate La Gioconda [the Mona Lisa] today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth or because she’s hiding a secret from her lover? It would shut off the viewer’s appreciation and shackle him to a reality other than his own. I don’t want that to happen to2001. —Stanley Kubrick.”

    I see a common theme above: books have larger canvass and say more. Movies have smaller canvass and leave things to imagination. This is a charitable view of movie makers. A more cynical view would be that most cinematic adaptations of books are the result of a policy of the studios to maintain a portfolio of such releases planned for the Academy nominations and awards season. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ would fit this category.
    Some people read books and some see movies. A small subset do both. We are talking about this subset. They would not have invested so many hours reading a book unless they had found it ‘interesting’ (you can dump a book anytime). This sets the bar high for the movie. These people are imaginative (like you). That imagination is the writers’ ally who need only provide basic details – the rest can be filled in by the reader. This ups the bar for the movie further. I quote from ‘Time’ (Nov 27, 2005): “Ask any reader who has seen the movie version of a favorite novel, and the answer will usully be, ‘The book was better.’ That’s because readers of a novel have already made their own perfect movie version. They visualized it, fleshed out the locations and set the pace … .” Movies on best sellers such as LOTR and Harry Potter take advantage of this and leave many details out. Most viewers have already read the books and fill in the gaps. These movies are not enjoyed as much by others who have not yet read the books.

    In college I had heard a lot about ‘Dracula’. I chose to read it at midnight during summer vacation in the hostel after all students had left and I was alone in the building – the resulting thrill was priceless. You could not replicate it in a theatre surrounded by hundreds of patrons. I had mentioned in your post on ‘Charly’ that ‘Flowers for Algernon’ employed the letter/note format effectively to dynamically convey the gradual growth and decline of IQ through spelling, punctuation, and paragraph structure. The film adds a visual dimension — the shape of letters – which the story could not use because employing different fonts would have been prohibitively expensive for a sci-fi (pulp) magazine. But the readers had supplied those fonts in their imagination! I have heard about the impact of ‘Prithviraj Raso’ (the first epic in Hindi), ‘Alha’ (folk song in Bundelkhand), and had read a novel based on ‘Prithviraj Raso’ (I cannot recall the title, nor am sure of the author, although I think it was by Chatursen, the author of ‘Dharmputra’). The descriptions of the battles between the armies of Prithviraj and Jaichand and then between those of Prithviraj and Gori were so racy, they got your adrenalin up and your heart thumping in a way no battle on the silverscreen could.


    • I’m sorry this is going to be a very short reply to your comment (which deserved a longer and more well thought out response), but my net connection is very dodgy these days, plus I’m really rather rushed for time…

      I can’t agree more with what you’ve quoted from Time; that is the reason why the number of bad adaptations so far outnumber the good ones – readers invariably have ‘picturised’ the entire written work in their minds, and deviations from that mental image of how, who, what, are more often than not unwelcome. (On the other hand, with films that I’ve seen before I’ve read the book, I end up ‘seeing’ the actors and actresses as I read).


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