Revere and Fear – My take on Adaptation

“I’ve made seventeen or eighteen films now, only two of which have been original screenplays, all the others have been based on short stories or novels, and I find the long short story ideal for adaptation.” Satyajit Ray
Adaptation – a word which has always created two strong emotions in me as a writer : Revere and Fear. Revere because an adaptation of my novel would be a promise of a larger than life medium to showcase and represent my creativity. And fear because that promise may just end up making a hash of my work!
A novel is a single writer’s baby. It is a dream conceived in isolation, imagination transferred from the mind’s eye to paper. You are responsible for it. . .whether it is good or bad. . .you take pride in the creation and responsibility for it. You toil over it and create characters and a world which you own – single-handedly. And you create your own brand of logic and magic. With your words as your medium, you turn thoughts into visuals in the minds of the readers. The words carve a niche in their memory. Every reader would have his or her own personal visual and image. Every reader would define and interpret the novel in his own way. As many readers, so much visual imagery. . .
And then this beautiful work is picked up to be transformed into another medium. Film. . .
And your heart fills with anticipation and trepidation. Anticipation because you want it to happen. . .You want another section of the public to really ‘see’ this piece of work. . .revel in its creation. You want your novel to come alive, outside your own mental world too.
But now your novel, will change hands. Your authority would slip and pass on to the Director or Producer or Scriptwriter. They would take the decisions, not you (unless you are lucky). A Director would use your novel as a tool, and add his vision to it. Other team members would join forces and converting your novel into a film would be a group activity. There would be discussions, omissions of scenes, additions that may shock you because earlier your novel was catering to a literate market and now it would be catering to the masses. The film would be an ‘animated’ version of your thoughts. Real faces would now outline the silhouettes of imaginary characters. Those faces would now be identified as your characters. You may like them or you may not. If earlier the visuals were a play of imagination in the reader’s mind, now the visuals would be restricted to the Director’s choice and handed out unconditionally. Your novel may metamorphose into a something utterly beautiful or something totally ugly. You may either clap with the team in pride, or rave and rant because you ever allowed your beautiful creation to be tampered with! You may sigh with pride or sigh with frustration.
That is a writer’s dilemma. To give or not to give. . . To want, yet not to want. . .To lose control or hold on. . .To grow or remain static. The choice is always difficult.
But having said that, it is important to understand that if a novel is chosen to be adapted, it is a compliment for the novel in the first place. And there have been adaptations that have been true to the original novel and worked for the audience, as well as adaptations that have moved from the original novel and yet bloomed.
The equation differs from novel to novel, Director to Director and adaptation to adaptation. Most often, an adaptation is a promise to enhance, to reach wider, to create larger. What is important for the writer to remember is that his work wouldn’t have been picked if the Producer or the Director hadn’t already seen it’s potential. Which means that they already have a sort of mental plan for your work. And trust and respect form an integral part of mutual growth. The writer’s confidence in the Adapter would probably also translate in convincing the audience, who has read your book, to watch the film. Adaptations work on faith. . .of the writer and of the reader. And the burden of this faith gets heavier when the book is hugely popular, a real bestseller. Then expectations are high. And the burden gets heavier. To deliver as per expectations, to not disappoint, to fulfill a promise.
So the shift of responsibility from the writer to the Director, is like a journey. From one medium to another. From one creation to another. . .