The legacy of Thakazhi’s Chemmeen endures as more native and foreign literary works continue to be translated into celluloid
Malayalam film industry is famous for shooting popular novels as movies. It does not confine to Malayalam noveldom alone; it even spreads its tentacles to other Bharatiya languages and sometimes to foreign literature. Kaliyattam is the best example for the movie done based on a foreign work. It is said to be an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello against the backdrop of a Hindu ritualistic art Theyyam. It was made by reputed filmmaker Jayaraj. It brought the national awards to Suresh Gopi and Jayaraj for best actor and best director respectively. Besides Kaliyattam, Jayaraj has directed two more Malayalam movies based on Shakespearean drama. One is Kannaki, inspired from Antony and Cleopatra and the other is recently completed Veeram, the film adaptation of Macbeth.
Several hit Malayalam movies were made, and are being made, based on several Malayalam best sellers. Chemmeen, Randidangazhi (both of Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai), Murappennu, Iruttinte Atmavu, Nirmmalyam (all by MT Vaudevan Nair), Ashwamedham (a drama by Thoppil Bhasi), Abhayam (Perumbadavam Sreedharan), Agnisakshi (Lalithambika Antharjanam), etc. are some of the legendary movies made on the basis of literature with same titles. (The authors’ names are bracketed after the titles). At the same time there are several novels which no film maker has attempted to shoot. Khasakkinte Ithihasam (The Legend of Khasak) (OV Vijayan) is one among them. Malayalam film lovers still miss that novel of incredible beauty in celluloid. Once veteran Malayalm actor and film maker Madhu told that it was not practical to make a two and half hours long movie based on that novel.
Organiser spoke to the renowned Malayalam filmmaker Shyamaprasad who directed Agnisakshi. He made it clear that all films do face challenges, whether they are based on novels or not. When we read a novel we appreciate it on the basis of our own thought process and conviction; then only a film maker sets out for writing. Otherwise it will end up as an illustration of the novel. He has to view it from his own angle and mind set, the difficulties and hardships he faced in his life, even the poverty he faces or faced, his rich experiences, his good and bad days, etc. Then he has to establish an identity with it; therefore, the cliché like ‘the film does not do justice to the original novel’ is not the right. On the other hand justice should be done to the filmmaker himself and the audience. Shyamaprasad underlines, he makes the film based on the emotions the novel creates in his heart. There should be attempts to find out answers to several questions. Agnisakshi was penned by a woman in 1960s and film was made by a man in 1990s. So, a transformation is there. This transformation is an essential must for the success of the movie. The film should be the reflection of the breeze, ebbs, tides and waves of the filmmaker’s inner heart.
In fact, Shaymaprasad had taken all necessary steps to translate Khasakinte Ithihasam into a film long time ago. OV Vijayan had given him the permission in writing. But, after the demise of both Vijayan and his wife, some legal problems came up with respect to the right of his works. Since Shyamaprasad had letters signed by Vijayan, he had every chance to win a legal battle. But, he did not go for a litigation as he was not quite sure how long it would take to settle the cases hence he abandoned the very idea for ever. Consequently, it still remains a heavy loss to the Malayalam filmdom. Shyamaprasad believes that novels are rich resource for movies.
In fact, both literature and films are two branches of inherent capabilities of their proponents. Literature has been influencing the human community from time immemorial. Until the advent of the movie, TV and computer, reading was the most important hobby of the people cutting across age lines. Now, movies are the most important modern hobby for the people.
Filmmakers, as Shyamaprasad rightly said, find novels as a readymade resource for movies. But, this modus operandi has to face the challenges hidden in it. First of all, people are very much emotionally and passionately attached to the popular novels and best sellers. But the filmmakers are not able to blindly copy the novel into celluloid. They will have to make at least some cosmetic or microscopic changes in the story here and there to suit it to the framework of a movie. Some scriptwriters even shift the focus from one role to another. Some others even change the climax! Some directors make revolutionary changes in the characterisation of the heroes or villains. For example when MT Vasudevan Nair wrote the script for Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha, a hit Malayalam movie, based on Malayalam ballads of medieval origin, the story underwent conspicuous changes in the character of the hero and villain. The hero Aromal Chekavar who was portrayed as a straight forward warrior was changed into a ruthless villain. On the other hand, Chandu, the villain in the ballads was eulogised as a man of virtues.
When this sort of character shifting takes place, people cannot accept and enjoy it for some time. They immediately murmur or even shout that the filmmaker does not do justice to the original story or novel. But, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha was accepted by the audience and it became a super hit during late 1980s, thanks to the excellent script of MT Vasudevan Nair and enviable performance of the superstar Mammotty who played the role of Chandu.
Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha had several ingredients to make it a grand success; apart from star cast, music, songs and photography contributed a lot towards its success. Thus, one can land up in the conclusion that several factors cause the success of a movie despite the source of story, that is, novel, or short story.
Another serious challenge the filmmaker faces when he takes a novel for his movie is the “reader’s resistance.” The appreciation a literary work creates in a reader’s mind is the result of a long process. When one reads a serious novel, the mood it creates is very important. It all depends on the vocabulary and beauty of the writer’s presentation and the story content. It hardly goes off readers’ thoughts. But, when he sees the movie, he starts to compare every scene and dialogue with the book he read a few years back. His mind will be reluctant to replace that old appreciation with the artistic movements he sees in the movie house. Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha is the classic example of this inevitable confrontation and the obvious solution to it. Exemplary scripts, wonderful camera, hit songs, beautiful dialogues, talents of the actors, etc. created wonders to alleviate the gap between the old story and the movie.
Chemmeen is another golden example of this challenge. A popular seashore story of Thakazhi turned an all time Malayalm super hit when Ramu Karyat made the movie. Wonderful camera and super hit songs made Chemmeen an unforgettable experience for several generations.
When popular filmmakers Priyadarshan, Sreenivasan and Sathyan Anthikkad adapt stories for their movies, they make sure that it is done to suit the mindsets of their permanent viewers. They know what sort of minor surgeries the stories should undergo to suit the purpose hence their movies are all time hits.
In other words the mettle of a good filmmaker will be proved when he translates a story, whether popular or brand new, into a movie and people receive it sans any hesitation. All Malayalam hit movies have scaled this Himalayan task. n