Rajit Kapur on book-to-film adaptations: Many beautiful books are turned into trash
Raazi actor Rajit Kapur reveals why he did not read the novel Calling Sehmat — on which the film is based — before he started shooting for Meghna Gulzar’s film, also starring Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal.Updated: May 27, 2018, 19:14 IST
Over the years, actor Rajit Kapur has consistently proved his mettle with films as diverse such as The Making of the Mahatma (1996), Ghulam (1998), Guzaarish (2010), Ki & Ka and (2016). His recent release Raazi, where he played the father of Alia Bhatt’s character, too, has fetched him good reviews.
Based on the book Calling Sehmat by author and ex-navy veteran Harinder Sikka, Raazi follows the life of a young college girl who is asked by her father to spy for India by getting married to a Pakistani army officer (played by Vicky Kaushal), and thus fulfil her duty towards the nation. Did Rajit read the book to delve more into his character and the world the film would inherit from it, before the filming began? “I never read the book. For me, the screenplay of the film itself said so much that I never thought of reading the book. I had to see the film to realise Meghna usko kahaan se kahaan leke gayi. I didn’t want to be biased in any way,” reveals Kapur, who played Byomkesh Bakshi on the 1990s TV series of the same name, adapted from Bengali author Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s writings.
The trend of adapting books for the big screen isn’t new to Bollywood. Right from Guru Dutt’s 1962 classic Sahib, Biwi Aur Ghulam (adapted from Bimal Mitra’s Saheb Bibi Golam), the Dev Anand-starrer Guide (RK Narayan’s novel of the same name 1965), the many versions of Devdas (Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s original novel), to Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare trilogy (Maqbool, 2002; Omkara, 2006; Haider, 2014), and Chetain Bhagat’s Five Point Someone and 2 States (made into 3 Idiots and Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s 2014 film of the same name, respectively), books have made for compelling subject material for movies.
Could adapting the subject material to suit an entirely different form makes book-to-film adaptations difficult to execute, or easy, given that the story and the characters have had considerable work already done on them? “There’s no hard and fast rule. My first film, Suraj Ka Saatvaan Ghoda (1992), was also based on a book. I remember reading the book and saying, ‘What’s wrong with these people? Mr Shyam Benegal (the director) — Why does he want to make a film, because this book cannot be turned into a film. But after the film got made, I had to take back my words, and I told him ‘You took the film to another level with what you have done’.”
However, things don’t always turn out as planned, and the opposite happens, too. “There are too many examples of beautiful books being made into absolute trash. You need to take the essence and add to it, or create your own imagery with what has been written in the original. Sometimes you do it hand-in-glove with the author, sometimes the author says ‘I don’t want to say… You interpret it’. The permutations and combinations are tremendous, and depend from case to case.”
Kapur also has words of praise for co-star Alia Bhatt, who plays his tender but brave, selfless, daughter Sehmat. “When you are working with somebody [like her], you don’t need words to express things. That’s how our relationship in the film and even the sets was. What was really strange is that the day we were shooting my death scene in the film, it was her real-life father Mahesh Bhatt’s birthday! She found it very strange,” he shares.
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