At a session with graduate students at the St Xavier’s College yesterday, some of them felt that film adaptations from literature never worked. The book was always better than the movie. In fact, this has been one of the stickiest points of conflict between an author and a film director.
Someone as renowned as Adoor Gopalakrishnan (there have been others of course) had his differences of opinion with writer Paul Zacharia when one of his works was adapted to the screen. It was a Mammootty-starrer called Vidheyan (Servile).
However, the question is will such a disagreement arise if the author and the helmer are the same. This was the one of the issues I raised with the celebrated Afghan writer, Atiq Rahimi, who directed The Patience Stone, which was adapted from his own book with the same title. The movie was part of the International Film Festival of India, which ends here this evening.
Rahimi (part of the jury here) – who left his native Afghanistan soon after the Russian invasion for France, but now divides his time between Kabul and Paris – tells me during a conversation that his novel, The Patience Stone (2008), was inspired by a horrific incident in Kabul on the eve of a literary conference there in 2005 when a young and famous poet was murdered by her husband. The conference was cancelled.
Asked whether which was his favourite – the book or the movie – Rahimi says that “they are like my children. I love both of them equally. I cannot choose one over the other”. However, there is world of difference between words and visuals. “Pictures tell a story very differently from passages in a novel. It is very difficult to compare the two mediums. It is not even fair”.
But why did Rahimi, who had earlier authored the best-selling Earth and Ashes in the Dari language, go in for an adaptation of The Patience Stone (in French). “There were several reasons”, he contends. “First, I got a producer. Second, when I write, I do it alone. Sometimes I do not understand my own characters. I think a film helps me understand them better. I seem to discover them in all their three dimensions when they begin talking and moving on the screen”.
Also, a movie, unlike a book, is a team effort, with questions and cross-questions cropping up ever so often. “My actress may ask me why she has to say these lines. She may want me to explain. My cinematographer may want to know why the camera ought to be placed at a particular spot”, Rahimi avers. “In the course of these explanations, I have found my characters and situations taking on a new meaning. I seem to understand them even better than what I did while writing the story”.
Although the novel was in French, Rahimi decided to make the film in Dari/Persian, mainly because he wanted his own countrymen – most of whom are illiterate and cannot read subtitles – to watch The Patience Stone (which is Persian).
The Patience Stone narrates the story of a young and beautiful Afghan woman (played by the extraordinarily talented Golshifteh Farahani, the Iranian actress who also ran away from her home and has been living in Paris since the past five years) who is taking care of her comatose husband with a bullet stuck in his neck. Her long “conversations” with him – rather her monologues – get more and more daring and sexually explicit till they shake the man out of his unconscious state.
Rahimi concludes the interview with the quip: “I am not unsatisfied with the movie”, thereby cleverly avoiding a definite yes or a no!