Point of Q: Page to Stage
Posted on 10 November, 2016 by Team Wishberry
In my final year in college I had a paper entitled Film & Literature, which looked at how books were converted into movies. There were some fine examples including French Lieutenant’s Woman, Jane Eyre, and Great Expectations. At the time, conversion of mediums was a rare phenomenon. Since then, books and films have become almost synonymous. Bookshops should actually have a section just dedicated to books which are “Now a major motion picture”. In fact, it seems like the new breed of novelists are writing with one eye on the film rights, following the examples set by Chetan Bhagat, and George R R Martin. So prevalent is this trend, that many recent novels, both in India and abroad, contain more dialogue than description.
As a theatre lover, my question is, where do plays fit in?
In the west, the relationship between the three mediums (book, film, play) is relatively well defined. JK Rowling writes a book, it gets made into a movie, and then many years later that movie is converted into a stage musical. There are exceptions, however, like Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, which is one of the most successful musicals ever, and more recently, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time that has filled houses on both sides of the Atlantic. Both were books first, and theatre later.
In India, books have been the source of numerous children’s plays. Probably because there aren’t that many plays written for children. So we’ve seen versions of The Jungle Book, Life of Pi, Short stories of Ruskin Bond and Tagore, and even Enid Blyton all come alive on the Bombay stage.
Away from children’s theatre, the stories of Premchand, Manto and Chughtai have also been regularly staged, and even filmed. However the celluloid versions (like children’s theatre) are primarily about the narrative and plot, while the stage versions place an emphasis on the words. In theatre, the authorial voice can be given a personification, like in the recent Tuesdays with Morrrie. In cinema that role is carried out by the camera, thereby unable to properly capture the writer’s vocabulary and turn of phrase. The filmic depictions of the tempestuous moors in Whuthering Heights always pale in comparison to their description in the book.
While there are exhaustive play scripts for theatre to draw from, slowly but surely, more book adaptations are dominating the city’s theatre landscape. Over the years, Tuesdays with Morrie, Umrao, Five Point Someone, The Alchemist have all found three dimensional representations on the Bombay stage. Naseeruddin Shah, for whom the ‘word’ has great importance, has just opened his Riding Madly Off In All Directions, based on the essays of Stephen Leacock. This soon after he directed staged readings of the animal stories of Vikram Seth and James Thurber.
Non-fiction books transfer well too. Unsunee Kahaniyaan was a stage adaptation of Harsh Mandar’s Unheard Voices, the cult classic Why Loiter was recreated as documentary theatre, and even Suchitra Krishnamoorthy’s autobiography Drama Queen found its representation on stage.
The deluge of literature festivals has brought the written word into the realm of our shared cultural/ entertainment experience. And maybe that’s why books have become popular resources for stage productions. Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai International Litfest for which I curate the performances section, presents work that HAS to be linked to a book, writer, or form of story-telling. All the programming tends to have a literature connect? This year’s buffet includes the aforementioned Riding Madly Off in all Directions, staged readings of Roald Dahl excerpts, a story about a creative writing professor called Poetic License, a new way of story-telling (inspired by role-play gaming) in Going Viral, one biography on stage The Ballads of Bant Singh, a non-fiction book Jalsa – Women of the Gramophone Era, and two brand new styles of playwriting in Blank and White Rabbit Red Rabbit.
Most of these shows will go on to have a life at other literary festivals, creating almost a parallel circuit of discerning viewers across the country. People who love words and are enamoured by how they sound, now have pieces created specifically for them.
Stage representations of books are an exciting new addition to the theatre scene. They challenge directors to depart from conventional staging ideas, and find new ways to communicate the narrative. In today’s day and age stories are no longer seem to be bound by form or even language. Anuvab Pal’s play The President is Coming was converted into a movie and then into a novel, while Umrao, went from book, to film, to play. Yet, irrespective of the medium, the aim is always to tell a story well… and that’s all that matters.
- Quasar Thakore Padamsee,
Artistic Director, QTP
About the writer:
Quasar Thakore Padamsee is the Artistic Director and Founder of QTP. He is also a founder of Thespo, an annual youth theatre festival. Quasar has directed and produced many a play since the late 1990s and has been on the forefront of bringing in something new and fresh to the theatre scene.
Quasar Thakore Padamsee is also a theatre columnist for a variety of publications. For the Wishberry Blog, he writes a monthly column called 'Point of Q'.