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5 Indian novels that would make great TV adaptations

In the season of book adaptations, we list our wishlist of stories that would make for fantastic TV

brunch Updated: Sep 18, 2016 00:34 IST

It’s the season of book adaptations. American novelist Hanya Yanagihara’s critically acclaimed second book A Little Life (2015) is going to be made into a TV mini-series. Netflix is adapting Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables (1908) and (as earlier announced in June) Vikram Chandra’s Bombay thriller Sacred Games (2006). While Amish Tripathi’s insanely popular Immortals of Meluha (2010) trudges its way to the big screen (whatever is happening to Karan Johar’s movie adaptation?), we list five Indian novels that would make for fantastic TV adaptations (and help Indian TV catch up with American!).

Turbulence (2010) by Samit Basu

Samit Basu’s globally acclaimed novel re-invented the superhero genre for the Indian subcontinent. A flight from London to Delhi hits strange turbulence at night. The passengers wake up to find themselves endowed with superpowers corresponding to their deepest desires. So a do-gooder, geek can control the Internet, actually everything digital, with his mind; a bored home-maker can clone herself endlessly; a former IAF pilot can fly (yes, like Superman!); an old Hindustani classical singer can literally raise the dead with her singing; a Pakistani-British aspiring actress now possesses infinite charm, and so on. The supers soon split into those who want India to dominate the world and those who want to fix the world.

Turbulence has a strong storyline, a familiar setting, well-fleshed characters, a supervillain, vivid action sequences, and a climatic showdown between the good and rogue supers to save the world (the megalomaniac villain is holding London hostage). What’s not to love?

Cuckold (1997) by Kiran Nagarkar
Kiran Nagarkar’s Sahitya-Akademi award winning book would make for great historical drama. It is set in 16th century Mewar, which is at war with the sultans of Delhi, Gujarat and Malwa. Within the kingdom brews a succession feud with several younger sons vying to trump the heir apparent Maharaj Kumar (based on the historical Thakur Bhojraj), who is also the novel’s narrator. Kumar is fighting another personal battle with a rather invincible rival for the love of his wife, Meera (yes, the Meera bai).

A well-made production with grand sets, exquisite costumes, battle sequences, political intrigues, a heart-breaking story of unrequited love (good acting too, hopefully) would be a real treat. It might need some major censoring, though, of the lovesick prince’s sexual fantasies, unless one wants to make it Game of Thrones style.

Samskara (1965) by UR Ananthamurthy
UR Ananthamurthy’s powerful critique of caste and religious dogma was made into a 1970 Kannada film with a stellar cast (Girish Karnad, P Lankesh), which you must watch, if you haven’t already. The story – of enslavement of human reason across time and cultures to religious tenets – has a universal appeal.

Village priest Praneshacharya lives in accordance with the rituals of his religion and caste (Madhwas brahmins). He is married to an invalid and devoted to caring for his ailing spouse. The death of Naranappa, a much reviled, meat-eating Brahmin, puts the entire community in a dilemma as to which Brahmin subcaste should perform his last rites. The religious law says the community cannot eat until the funeral has been performed. As Praneshacharya searches for answers in sacred texts, he comes in contact with Chandri, the dead man’s low-caste lover, and begins to discover that sometimes doing the right thing involves putting morals aside.

Delhi (1990) by Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh’s erotic magnum opus on Delhi follows the capital’s history from the invasion of Nadir Shah (1739) to the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. Every chapter that goes back to a particular event in the city’s rich history is alternated with an episode in the ageing narrator’s life, mostly his sex life and his relationship with a hermaphrodite prostitute. It ticks all the right boxes for an entertaining adaptation, but the same caveat as in case of Cuckold applies here too. Might require some solid censoring, if it is adapted for Indian TV.

Narcopolis (2012) by Jeet Thayil
Jeet Thayil’s Booker-shortlisted, DSC Prize-winning debut novel, Narcopolis (2012), on opium is set in old Bombay of the 1970s. The narrative is made of interconnected stories with each focusing on a different character, the central two being Rashid, an opium den owner, and his part-time employee Dimple, a eunuch. The book looks at Mumbai through the eyes of those at the margins of society, who flock to Rashid’s den to escape into oblivion. The many stories that make the narrative would be perfect for a mini-series.

From HT Brunch, September 18, 2016

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