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Turning films into books? Well...

Indrajit Hazra is decidedly uneasy about movies being turned into books.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2006 15:26 IST

There is something vaguely unnatural about movies being turned into books. It’s bad enough that the die is almost-forever loaded when it comes to answering that age-old question about movie adaptations of books: “So, was the film as good as the book?” If the book is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the answer should be yes. But who has the gumption to say so? But when it comes to the inverse question, “So, was the book as good as the movie?” show me an aye-sayer and I’ll show you VS Naipaul working away on the ‘novelisation’ of Men In Black III.

There are reasons why no one bothers to take a book based on a movie seriously. One, the book’s ancestry predates cinema and is therefore more susceptible to ‘serious’ criticism. Two, there’s less money at stake in a book than in a movie. So even when a Stanley Kubrick or a Satyajit Ray make films based on a Stephen King or a Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay novel respectively, it’s the book that is seen as giving the film the spark, no matter how brilliant the directorial ‘vision’ was. In any case, do you know William Kotzwinkle or Steven Spielberg, Patricia C Wrede or George Lucas for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones? (Clue: Kotzwinkle and Wrede are the authors of the novelisations of the two movies.)

The ‘novelisation’ is always a commercial venture. As is the spanking new Modern Library Classics edition of King Kong, precision timed for publication simultaneously with Peter Jackson’s remake of the original movie. But beyond the jungle of cross-media sales-pitch of the latest King Kong, how is the book? For starters, it takes less time to read through the 153-page ‘novel’ than sit through the three-hour movie. Also, despite its Thirties noir feel — “Faces in murky doorways. Faces on street corners. Faces on park benches. Faces in bread lines… But never a face which would gleam, like a candle flame…”— it’s little else but an adventure story for teenagers, lacking the always refreshingly naive post-Freudian take on the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that’s resonant in the movie(s).

But hang on. The ‘new’ King Kong novel is really an old novelisation that came out only a few months before the 1933 Merian C Cooper original movie. The authorship of King Kong, the book, however, is a classic model of confusion that the pedigree of all novelisations are. The director of the original movie, Cooper, and his producers had hired the bestselling English writer of the time, Edgar Wallace, to write the screenplay. Unfortunately, Wallace died of pneumonia after handing in the script, which was drastically changed by Cooper himself.

Newspaperman Delos W Lovelace was hired to ‘novelise’ the final screenplay credited to James Creelman and Ruth Rose (90 per cent of the dialogue in the film was hers). But King Kong 2005-06 had to put in something in between book covers. So there’s novel-game-TV show writer Matthew Costello’s King Kong: The Island of the Skull: The Official Prequel Novel to the Universal Pictures Movie Event.

Despite the number of movies that come out of Bollywood, the ‘novelisation’ is yet to see the light of day in India. While two biographies of Mangal Pandey come out with the release of The Rising, no novel based on the film rose out of canny film promos or cannier publishing. There’s only one desi exception to that rule: Bapsi Sidwa’s currently writing away her novel based on Deepa Mehta’s film Water. But in case you’re waiting for a ‘novel’ version of Bluffmaster or Apaharan coming to a bookshop near you, don’t line up yet.