Books into movies. And yet, not the same.

You know how when you watch a movie based on a book before you have actually read it; you usually don’t pick it up? And when you watch the movie after the reading the book, it usually falls short of your expectations? Sometimes the rules change. Like, with ‘The Namesake’. And ‘Frankenstein’. And ‘The curious incidents of the dog in the night time’.

I watched The Namesake (2006, director Mira Nair) during a summer break with my grandmother. The characters of Ashok and Ashima – played wonderfully by Irrfan Khan and the ever-so-pretty-Tabu, will be etched in my memory forever. Gogol’s character – though written brilliantly- was overshadowed by the simplicity and ease with which Khan played a first generation Bengali immigrant to USA. And Tabu’s acting capabilities can be proven in any single shot. My favourite remains the scene where Tabu, on hearing of her husband’s death, runs from room to room, switching on all the lights before finally coming out on the garden and screaming. That helplessness, the claustrophobia, and directionless thought – is superior to any other emotion I had seen portrayed by her before.

When I finally read the book after two years, I kept on thinking about the actors. And yet, the book was worthy enough. It was wonderfully written – making me feel that it was actually me and my family who were now living in America. I could see my mother trying to adjust to life there, and yet not being comfortable enough to stop wearing her saree, or driving to the supermarket. I could see my sister and I protesting at the forced socialization between cousins and aunts and us. Jhumpa Lahiri has remained, since then, one of my favourite writers. Though I still cannot categorize her as an English writer writing about Bengalis, or an Indian writer living and writing in USA.

(Read Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story ‘Gogol’ which inspired her to write ‘The Namesake’ later on The New Yorker site.)

On the other hand, everyone knows about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is the ultimate horror story with a subliminal message about the failure of creation. But when Oscar winner Danny Boyle adapted it into a play for London’s National Theatre – it blew the mind away! Jonny Lee Miller (you must have seen him in ‘Trainspotting’ – another brilliant book adapted into a movie) and Benedict Cumberbatch (from the now popular tv show ‘Sherlock’) played the roles of Doctor Frankenstein and the monster alternatively. I went to a screening where Miller played the creature – and what a creature he was!!! Starting with the way the monster is born, and learns to use his limbs, then starts to crawl and walk, before learning to master the human tongue – the director’s vision was in more-than-able hands. Cumberbatch was brilliant as he was – with or without award winning lines. Not to mention, the tweaks in the story and technologically advanced stage set amazed everyone in the audience. In India when we want to show fire, we show orange lights on stage or at max a red/ orange cloth flies on the background. In London, they show fire when they say fire. No wonder the goose bumps lasted till the last scene, then.

Last week I went in for a theatre adaptation of Mark Haddon’s famous book “The curious incidents of the dog in the night time”. Now, the book was gifted to me first by one of my best friends after he read and loved it. Regretfully, I left it at home when I moved to Mumbai. It was only in July this year when my colleague gifted me another copy of the book for my birthday that I actually marked it on my ‘to-read’ checklist. While the book takes a first person narrative where 15-year old autistic genius, Christopher, plays detective to find out who killed his neighbours dog, the play is read out as Christopher’s diary by his teacher – Siobhan. A little Google-ing showed me that Luke Treadaway is the boy who played Christopher in the Simon Stephen’s play. It shows the challenges an autistic child may find – no matter how brilliant he is at maths (oh yes, Christopher clears his Math A levels with top grades). Quirky moments where he rejects anything yellow because he hates the colour, or where he keeps taking all the left turns from Point A to reach Point B, or how he has to explain everything rationally will surprise you and make you smile (or gasp). The closing lines where no-one answers his question (“Does that mean, I can do anything then?”) leaves this haunting idea that life would not be as easy for him. It was only after the play that I picked up the book and started reading through it. I’m halfway through the book already and it keeps getting more interesting even though I know exactly what is about to happen.

There are a couple of books I wish to see as movies or plays. Even if it disappoints. I want to see if the directors will have the same ideas after reading the book as I did, whether they had felt the same tingling excitement at the same printed words. But that, I guess, calls for another post.

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