Bollywood, thy frenemic liaison with literature astounds Shakespeare and audience alike
Bollywood is a film industry that runs high on emotions and music, and the fabric of storytelling takes a backseat, many a times. This does not mean that we do not have scripts that are abounding with surprises, but we have to admit, the magic that works on the box office, is seldom comprising of the screenplay.
But, there are exceptions too. Amongst a galore of filmmakers that we have, there are a few who dare to think beyond the stereotype, and when they run out of ideas, literature comes to their rescue. A fine story is just what they need to create magic on the canvas of celluloid. From Shakespearean tragedies and comedies, to Jane Austen’s charisma, to Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s subtle innuendos of romance weaved into the beauty of Bengal, Bollywood has had many liaisons with literature.
Fair Warning ahead: No, we are not including Chetan Bhagat here.
In popular culture, when we speak of the most popular and expertly adapted literary works, we have to talk about the Shakespearean trinity of Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet, adapted by prominent filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, who went on to create ‘Maqbool’, ‘Omkara’, and ‘Haider’, respectively. The nuances of the plot were delicately weaved into the screenplay which was brought from contemporary Shakespearean world to the world of today, and Bhardwaj received love and praise of critics and audience alike, for the same. Not everyone has the flair of embracing literature so close to cinema, that too a masala Bollywood genre, but Bhardwaj delivered it and how.
Another name that crops up in our mind is that of Sarat Chandra Chattopadyay, the literary genius of Bengal, whose ‘Devdas’ is imprinted on the minds of generations, even though it is because of two different filmmakers of two different eras. While Dilip Kumar made the character of Devdas immortal with the pain he showcased on screen, decades later Shah Rukh Khan recreated the magic carved by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. However, the literary critics still consider the older ‘Devdas’ of Bimal Roy closer to the classic, as Bhansali’s was a tad too glamorised, as opposed to the simple world created by Sarat da. Sarat da’s ‘Parineeta’ was also adapted by two different filmmakers, decades apart, and whether you consider the Meena Kumari-Ashok Kumar one, or Vidya Balan-Saif Ali Khan one, both are beautiful odes to the writer with celluloid versions that bring Bengal alive.
The Shakespearean tragedy ‘Romeo & Juliet’ has been made and remade almost to the point of abuse, with some of the adaptations being downright ridiculous. Two lovers, families against their match, who embrace death, the same old logic has been recreated using so many backdrops that even Shakespeare may be rolling in his grave, asking to stop. While some adaptations like ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye’, ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, ‘Ishaqzaade’, have been memorable enough, the ones like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Goliyon Ki Ras Leela – Ram Leela’ have been forgettable, and Manish Tiwary’s ‘Issaq’ was downright obnoxious.
Another example that crops up when we discuss literature and its flings with Bollywood, is ‘Aisha’, which was loosely based on Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’. Though the movie does not find many takers, we would still say that Rajshree Ojha had captured the vein of the plot quite firmly, and presented us an annoying Aisha in the form of Sonam Kapoor, much like Jane’s Heroine Emma, who is not liked by many. Not to forget Abhay Deol was amazing as the desi George Knightley, aka Arjun Burman. It may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but was not bad as an attempt to adapt a classic of the bygone century into contemporary Indian times. Anurag Basu’s ‘Fitoor’ too was a decent attempt at Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, although the leads could have performed better. The crew had breathed life into the canvas that Kashmir was, and the whole cinematography was breath-taking. A few plot pointers could have been better, along with Aditya Roy Kapur and Katrina Kaif’s performances as Pip and Estella respectively. Not to forget the ending, which turned out to be a typical Bollywood saga, rather than a Dickens’ work. Nevertheless, the movie deserves at least one watch, if one is a lover of literature.
Moving on, Vikramaditya Motwane’s ‘Lootera’ was a beautiful love story spun out of O Henry’s ‘The Last Leaf’, an innovative take on a story which was just a page long. Still, it tugged at hearts, and is one of the most beautiful literary liaisons in Bollywood, that one has seen. If we talk about short stories and their cinematic adaptations, one has to take into consideration ‘Saawariya’, the blue-hued debut of Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, which was the poetic adaptation of the short story ‘White Nights’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, crafted by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The movie bombed, one of the major reasons being that the sheer theatre-like presentation and cinematography could not be digested and understood by the masses who were used to commercial ventures.
I can go on and on about this and paint the perfections that were bestowed on us by Bollywood filmmakers who made literature their muse. Be it Waheeda Rehman and Dev Anand’s epic portrayal in RK Narayan’s beautiful story ‘The Guide’, or Ruskin Bond’s spine-tingling ‘Susannah’s Seven Husbands’ that gave us ‘7 Khoon Maaf’, or even Amrita Pritam’s ‘Pinjar’ which made our insides screech at the plight of women who suffered during partition, Bollywood has given literature its due. We hope that it continues, not the destruction of words of master class, but a beautiful version on celluloid that soothes the soul.
Kapoor & Sons: Caught the plight of homosexuals tenderly and yet made 'coming out' look doable
Kapoor & Sons – Since 1921. The house proudly flaunted that to the world, nestled in the greens of Coonoor. No one knew the darkness that was inside, the demons that were individually dealt with. But then, isn’t every family like that?
Two years have passed by since this Shakun Batra-directorial, story of a dysfunctional family had come to our lives. However, amongst the various themes that tore apart the family and eventually brought it together, one that truly had the power to transform, was that of homosexuality.
Not many know, that the role played by Fawad Khan, that of family’s elder son, a successful author, was actually offered to many A-listers, who turned it down, eventually leading him to step into the shoes of Rahul. And it was, indeed, a very big step on his part. He was venturing out of his territory, a man who has such a huge female-fan following, and comes from a country with religion as its main running philosophy. He did the role and brought such conviction to it that we were forced to stand up and applaud, his courage, and the beauty with which his character was carved.
Since times immemorial, all our memories of gay characters on screen have been that of carelessly effeminate and unimportant roles, which are just there to add a comic element. The stereotype has been high to an extent that often the champions of the same channelise it and promote it, for it is wrapped in the shiny paper of presentation. The biggest example of this was ‘Dostana’, which was an amazing story of friendship, still used homosexuality as humour, as its backdrop. Ironically, it came from the same production house, though nearly eight years before that.
But ‘Kapoor & Sons’ begged to differ here. The character here was real, someone who was hiding himself, for the society, his family. There was surreality to the theme of homosexuality here, which had the power to jar us inside out; and that, it did.
Two scenes from the movie specifically hit me. First one is when Sunita (Ratna Patak Shah) finds out that her ideal elder son, whom she adores and is proud of, is not straight. The aftereffects of the same jolt you, because the reaction is just what an Indian mother gives, in any situation that is beyond her control; uncontrollable anger at the offspring, and then uncontrollable guilt, of blaming herself and her upbringing. The scene is filmed so beautifully, that your eyes sting. The way Fawad’s facade falls and his fear is marked across his face, which is then replaced by the anger of hiding himself for all those years, and mother’s dilemma and hurt, it all comes out in a naked and real manner.
Another sequence is when Rahul (Fawad Khan) comes back home after the showdown with his mother and the death of his father totally uproots whatever sanity his family possessed. He sits with his mother, with whom his last encounter was one of his coming out, and she asks, hesitatingly, about his partner. A subtle way of expressing acceptance, the way they hold hands, without saying anything, it stays with you.
It may not be one masterpiece, but ‘Kapoor & Sons’ will forever remain a favourite for finally breaking the mainstream stereotype of a gay man, in Bollywood. And for that, no matter how many bans, I will forever be waiting for Fawad Khan to come back, and give us more performances; with dare and conviction.
An ode to Sridevi, the queen who inspired the queers long before it became mainstream
“I am a kid from the 90s but still can’t forget those days when, me-myself was not out and proud about my preferences. And inside my own sweet world would dance in front of the mirror on many songs, but majorly on ‘Hawa Hawai’ and ‘Main Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera’. These songs were just not tunes for me, it made me feel exactly what I was; a QUEERby birth”.
The news of the legendary diva Sridevi being no more with us is still hard to believe, as she was part of my and every queer’s childhood memories. While in the late 90s my bunch of friends would idolise a star from the West as their gay icon, me being a full-fledged Bollywood fanatic was in love with Sridevi and she was a diva I used to worship (and will forever). Her golden costume and perfectly done makeup in ‘Hawa Hawai’ made me feel, “Yes! There is someone like me out there who loves bling and all things loud.” Her feather headgear in one of the songs from ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’, touched my drag Queen‘s soul. One of the lines from her song ‘Hawa Hawai’ which is ‘Soorat Hi Maine Aisi Paayi’ transported me into a world where I thought that there is someone narcissist just like me. Sridevi’s charm was on my mind and the feminine side in me just wanted to be a replica of her.
The gone actress has not only given a lot to the Indian cinema, but her sass and talent of naturally moulding herself into any character gave her an upper hand in whatever she used to do. When many gay men were struggling and were confused about their sexual orientation they found a connection to their on-going pain in Sridevi’s roles. Whether it was Sridevi as a meek Anju and ferocious Manju fighting for everything wrong in ‘ChaalBaaz’ (1989), Pooja’s mutiny against the everlasting societal conditions in ‘Lamhe’ (1991), Seema’s confidence-filled and fearless dance in the ‘Mr. India’ (1987) song ‘Hawa Hawaai’ or her role of a naagin (snake) coming out to the world about her dual identity in ‘Nagina’ (1986), Sri’s roles had a deep connection and were etched in every GAY man’s mind.
And how can one miss ‘Kate Nahin Kat Te’ song of Sridevi from ‘Mr. India’, where she owned the song and made every gay guy’s dream to dance on it once with his man. This particular song was wild, seductive and equal parts bold. Sridevi draped in a sky-blue coloured saree with a matching bindi and of course adding fuel to the fire was her dancing moves. Even at the end of the song, a fully wet in rainwater, Sridevi stretching herself on a pile of hay – ‘Tumne jo li angdayi hai’ – where the diva nibbles on straws with a drenched fire in her eyes, leaving Mr. Kapoor to chivalrously lie on a distant haystack.
While mostly when the film fraternity was in a zone where feminine men were used as a tool to add fun elements on the silver screen, Sridevi was a ray of hope for the LGBTQ community. She was like a powerful symbol for the QUEERS. Her role resonated each and every gays struggle, and also echoed their dysphoria into her characters. And with her, all the queer children surpassed the narrow-minded stereotypes which they were labelled with. Lastly, she might be gone, but the colourful rainbow universe she opened for all the fellow LGBTQ people remains there intact..
Hail the QUEEN! RIP Sridevi.