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Monday, June 15, 2009

A Few Good Ones: Lit-Adaptation Wishlist

(Originally published here on

“Thou, of the blogger’s faith, shalt not revert to the “list” post, ‘cept if ye haven’t banged thine keyboard for a while, or the Indian cricket team has been knocked out of the World Cup, or both….”
– The Underground Bible Of Bloggers

Seeing as both of the above criteria are fulfilled, I think I’ve got this covered. I remember reading in a PFC article about how “The White Tiger” was voted the most “filmable” among a host of recent books in a film festival not long ago.(There ye go, Danny Boyle!) That set me thinking about some of the books I read(or re-read!) in the past few weeks, which are on my silver-screen wishlist. This is in no particular order, with little rhyme or reason, except for an effort on my part to make the list as varied as possible, as far as genre is concerned.

1. Netherland- Critics around the world hailed Joseph O’ Neill’s 2008 novel as a post 9/11 masterpiece, or alternatively as a masterly post-colonial interpretation of “The Great Gatsby”. Call it what you will, but “Netherland” is poignant, precise and hauntingly effective at revealing the many pitfalls of relationships and the ultimately fickle nature of mankind. The story revolves around a Dutch banker Hans Van der Boek whose personal life takes a tumble after 9/11, and his uneasy frriendship with Chuck Ramkissoon, an entrepreneur with stars in his eyes, who wants to set up a cricket enterprise in New York. My choice for director would be Robert Zemeckis, with Ewan McGregor and Forest Whitaker as Van Der Boek and Ramkissoon, respectively.

2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist- Young American of Pakistani origin works in a hotshot financial firm, settles down into the yuppie shell…..and when the two towers collapse on the TV, he just laughs. Intrigued? Mohsin Hamid’s slim novel packs quite a lot of narrative punch in its 180-odd pages, and maintains to keep us all on the edge. Mira Nair has expressed interest in this one, and I hope she does get to be the one who dons the director’s hat for this film. As for the role of Changez, the Princeton-educated Lahore boy…. it is a tremendously subtle role, and one which requires some serious head scratching on the part of the director…as far as physical attributes are concerned, Neil Nitin Mukesh comes to mind.

3. The Zoya Factor- After two very literary novels, the next one on my list is firmly in the realm of what is popularly called “chick-lit” . Anuja Chauhan’s debut novel chronicles the adventures of Zoya Solanki, a girl born on the exact moment of India’s World Cup victory, the deal being, whenever she has breakfast with the team on the eve of a match, we win. So there. Despite such an obviously contrived backdrop and some pretty standard chick-lit set-pieces, the author raises quite a few laughs with its caricatures of Indian cricketers, bureaucrats and numerology-toting holy men. Following the release of Billu Barber, the Internet was strife with reports of Red Chillies Productions, SRK’s banner producing the film. Let’s hope Shah Rukh’s second innings with cricket goes slightly better than the first….till then “Korbo, lorbo, jitbo re!”

4. The Plot Against America- Philip Roth imagines an America where Charles Lindbergh has defeated Roosevelt in the 1940 elections, and the resulting rise of anti-semitism in America. The lingering questions posed by the master novelist are tough to answer, as Roth turns his microscope towards the America which voted for George W. Bush not once, but twice. (If you ask me, this is almost as outrageous as the alternate history devised by Roth.) To capture the escalating paranoia and tension, I would go for Steven Spielberg(this has nothing to do with his being a Jew). On an unrelated note, another Roth adaptation to hit the screen recently is “Elegy”( starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz) based on Roth’s 2001 novel, “The Dying Beast” a poignant tale about love, the fear of ageing and its inevitable physical toll.

5. After Dark- In a world of acolytes and factory-made zombies posing as writers, Haruki Murakami is a bona fide original. He has his influences, but he leaps beyond them to create a dazzling palette all of his own. This eerie tale of two sisters, one of whom is mysteriously in a month-long coma-like sleep, is a classic Murakami tale, with themes of urban loneliness and a gripping sense of unease and alienation. For this film, I would choose stylistic chameleon Ang Lee as director, or alternatively, David Lynch, because as I was reading the novel, scenes from Mulholland Drive were flashing through my head, for some strange reason I am yet to fathom…..

6. The Sandman- I could go on for ages(and pages) talking about this comic-book series….and it still wouldn’t be adequate. Suffice to say that British writer Neil Gaiman revolutionized the way comic-books are perceived(with all due respect to Alan Moore!). Erudite, complex both visually and literally, and constantly pushing the bar ever higher, Gaiman helped usher in a new wave of “comic-books for intellectuals” as Norman Mailer, the grand old man of American letters described Sandman. On the surface, Sandman is about the adventures of Morpheus, the Dream Lord who controls the Dreaming, and his siblings Death, Despair, Destiny and others, known as the Endless. But really, Sandman is about the power of the human imagination, and the myriad landscapes the mind draws to often blur the line between fact and fiction. Drawing on mythologies and historical figures of several lands, as well as Western canonical literature, films and pop culture, Sandman is as “essential” as Lord Of the Rings. No surprises, then that my choice for director would be Peter Jackson. (Neil Gaiman himself stated that he would like the potential director to be “as obesessed as Peter Jackson was with Tolkien’s works.)

7. Preacher- Irish comic-book writer Garth Ennis wrote this mature comic-book series under the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, known for its quote-unquote serious titles. But for once, the hype was justified. The series is a scathing critique of religious conservatism, and the modern uber-American identity. Stylistically influenced by old-school cowboy westerns(it even has John Wayne as a character, which is an apparition guiding the hero, who in turn is a very Waynesque character.), Preacher kicks some serious ass, and is among the wittiest comic-books I’ve read. In January, Columbia Pictures finalised the film rights, with Sam Mendes, whose work I greatly admire, directing!

To round off the list, I would like to draw the reader’s attention towards “Between The Assasinations”, Aravind Adiga’s second book, a collection of short stories set in a fictional South Indian town called Kittur, and as is obvious from the titles, chronicles the time between the assasinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. These sketches from small-town India, often characterized by Adiga’s acerbic wit and black humour, manage to capture the zeitgeist of the mid 80’s India very well. I found it a kind of a twisted riposte to “Malgudi Days” which had charming little vignettes which were gentle even in their criticism. In my opinion, it is a far superior work than “The White Tiger” which had periods of brilliance marred by hackneyed, myopic portrayals of rural poverty which strove for cheap thrills rather than insightful examinations of the lives of its subjects.

I would love it if “Between The Assasinations” is adpated for a television miniseries, inviting some of our top directors to make 40-minute episodes, a la “Star Bestsellers”. Alternately, three or four of the stories could be taken to make an ensemble film, much like “New York Stories” which had Scorsese, Coppola and Woody Allen at the helm, or Boccaccio 70, which had Fellini, de Sica and other Italian directors. I scarcely need to point out the need for quality made-for-TV works in India, although I admit I haven’t seen the much touted “Specials at 9″ series with names like Madhur Bhandarkar, Anurag Kashyap and Mahesh Manjrekar to boast of. Let’s hope that we, too can see something like “John Adams” or “Angels In America” on our telly screens soon!

I would really appreciate your own ideas for books which you think will make for some compelling cinema :)