Tuesday, April 23, 2024


#It takes cojones to make films from published literature, especially if the said books fall in the category of Classics. The Hindi film industry has seen innumerable stories based on adaptations from books, ranging from classic to cheesy. It’s the directors who have been instrumental in making them into hits or flops. The good thing is, by my observation, we have some amazing films made by powerhouse directors that do justice to the originals, as well as leave an independent impact on the viewers’ minds. Of course there are some publications that do not merit the directors their stories have earned. But that is something we won’t elaborate on just yet. 

Let’s take a dekko at some of these films adapted from novels in India. The originals range from Shakespeare, to dynamic Hindi novelists, to soulful Bengali authors, right down to the popular pulp fiction writer James Hadley Chase, and our very own Chetan Bhagat’s novels (gulp!!) Be warned, the list is long, but very interesting.  

Way back in 1961, director Hemen Gupta made the unforgettable Kabuliwala, based on the short story of the same name, written by the prolific Rabindranath Tagore. The story had already been made into a film in Bengali in 1957.  The Hindi version starred Balraj Sahani, who made the nation weep with his heartbreaking histrionics. The film also starred actress Usha Kiron, Sajjan and Baby Farida. Sudhendu Roy’s 1971 film Uphaar, starring Jaya Bachchan was based on Tagore’s short story named Samapti (The End). Rabindranath Tagore also wrote the novel Chokher Bali, which the late director Rituparno Ghosh made into a film of the same name, in 2003, starring his muse Aishwarya Rai, Prasenjit Chtterjee and Raima Sen. 

Kabuliwala was based on a short story of the same name, written by the prolific Rabindranath Tagore

In 1963, Munshi Premchand’s classic novel Godaan (published in 1936, and to date acknowledged as one of the greatest novels in modern Indian literature) was made into a Hindi film by Trilok Jetley, starring Raajkumar, Mehmood, Kamini Kaushal, Madan Puri and Shashikala. It explored the issue of societal inequality and exploitation (under colonial rule then) of the impoverished masses here, amongst other raging issues. The film’s music was composed by the late Pandit Ravi Shankar. It was again, a heartrending and grim story of the times. Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Satyajit Ray’s classic was a fabulous adaptation of Munshi Premchand’s book by the same name! A master stroke indeed! And Premchand’s Gaban was made into a film by directors Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Krishan Chopra in 1966. The film starred Sadhna, Sunil Dutt, Kanhaiyalal, and Anwar Hussain. 

Mahasweta Devi, a fiery champion for the poor and the marginalised, and whose writings have earned her numerous literary awards (more than 300 published works to her credit), had many of her works made into films, and on issues that were avoided for fear of censure, in her times. Sunghursh, directed by H.S. Rawail, featured Diip Kumar, back in 1968. Behula, made in 1989, dealt with the face-off between superstition and science. The more popular ones were the Kalpana Lajmi directed Rudaali (1993), starring the gorgeous Dimple Kapadia, and which won three national awards. It had mesmerising music as well by Bhupen Hazarika.  In 1998, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, directed by Govind Nihalani, starring Jaya Bachchan, Joy Sengupta, Anupam Kher and others, also won the National Award for best feature film in Hindi. In 2006, a Marathi film based on her writing, Maati Maay (A Grave-keeper’s Tale) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Gangor, an Italian-Indian co-production, was a multilingual film, adapted from Mahasweta Devi’s Bengali short story ‘Choli ke Peeche’, and it earned awards and accolades across global festivals in 2010.

Rudaali won three national awards

R. K. Laxman’s story The Guide was the basis for director Vijay (Goldie) Anand’s classic film Guide, starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman. The story explored the dark areas of the human psyche, way before it was acceptable in society.  

Not many are aware but even the 1966 film Dil Diya Dard Liya was loosely based on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Directed by Abdul Rashid Kardar, and ostensibly Dilip Kumar, the stars of the film were Waheeda Rehman, Pran Sikand, Rehman and Dilip Kumar himself.  

Bimal Mitra novel Saheb, Bibi, Golam was adapted into a classic love tragedy

Bengali writer Bimal Mitra novel’s Saheb, Bibi, Golam, spawned Abrar Alvi’s classic love tragedy Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, in 1962, with unforgettable music, and performances by Meena Kumari, Rehman, Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman.   

The Urdu novel Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Haadi Ruswa, penned in 1905, had two major adaptations for cinema. Muzaffar Ali told the story of Lucknow’s most famous and cherished courtesan, played by Rekha to exquisite perfection and seduction, in his film Umrao Jaan in 1981. The then extravagant production had music and dance that sparkled and are still talked about. Farooque Shaikh, Naseeruddin Shah and Raj Babbar were also aptly cast. It was Rekha’s golden peak in her career. JP Dutta’s Umrao Jaan in 2006 came a pale second despite the presence of the beauteous Aishwarya Rai, Shabana Azmi, Suneil Shetty and Abhishek Bachchan. 

The Urdu novel Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Haadi Ruswa, penned in 1905, had two major adaptations for cinema

Image Courtsey: cinetarangini

Writer Upamanyu Chatterjee’s, urban black comedy English, August, was a delightful creation in celluloid by debutant director Dev Benegal in 1994. Rahul Bose was perfectly cast as the protagonist Agastya Sen, ably backed by Mita Vashisht and his other co-actors. 

(This one is a Hollywood Bollywood combination) Indian origin British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha and her husband Paul Berges, adapted Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel The Mistress of Spices (in 2005) with Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott in key roles. The film didn’t fare too well though. Gurinder’s Bride and Prejudice (2004), also starring Aishwarya Rai, Nadira Babbar and Anupam Kher tanked at the Box Office. The musical romance was based on the English classic by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.


Bengali author Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is another one whose works have been a veritable treasure trove, delved into by numerous celebrated directors across decades. His story of Devdas (first published in 1917 as a romantic novel) itself has been adapted by four markedly different directors. The first one was in 1936, by P.C. Barua, starring K.L. Saigal and Jamuna. In 1955, auteur Bimal Roy adapted this tragic romance yet again. His Devdas starred Dilip Kumar and Suchitra Sen as the star-crossed lovers, with Vyjayanthimala playing Chandramukhi. This was one of the first films that set off the title Tragedy King for Dilip Kumar. 

Chattopadhyay’s Devdas has been adapted by four markedly different directors 

Sanjay Bhansali’s magnum opus, released in 2002, was a lavish musical production telling the same tale yet again. He cast Shah Rukh Khan Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit as the three corners of the unholy triangle, with Jackie Shroff playing Chunni Babu. Finally, 2009 saw Anurag Kashyap’s modern day Devdas – titled Dev.D. Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin, Mahie Gill and Dibyendu Bhattacharya were the cast of this contemporary version, which earned its own fans amongst dissenting naysayers and purists.  

Sarat Babu’s 1941 Bengali novella Porinita spawned films in both, Bengali and Hindi. Director Pradeep Sarkar artistically crafted Parineeta in 2005, gifting the industry debutante Vidya Balan, along with other co-stars namely Saif Ali Khan Sanjay Dutt and Dia Mirza. The other film adapted from Porinita is the 1976 drama Sankoch, directed by Anil Ganguly. This version had Jeetendra and Sulakshana Pandit as lead actors. Basu Chatterjee’s family drama of 1980, Apne Paraye was also based on Sarat Chandra’s Bengali Novel Nishkriti. The joint family story featured Amol Palekar, Girish Karnad, Utpal Dutt and Shabana Aazmi

Another classic adaptation was Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Pinjar, a partition drama, in 2003, based on Amrita Pritam’s novel Pinjar. The film had some heartbreakingly good performances from Manoj Bajpayee and the unconventional casting of glamour girl Urmila Matondkar. 

The Namesake by Mira Nair in 2006, was based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s book The New Yorker. The film was a runaway hit with powerhouse performances by Irrfan Khan, Tabu, and Kal Penn.


Vishal Bharadwaj is singularly the best director where adaptations are concerned

Vishal Bharadwaj has proven himself master of his craft, and is singularly the best director where adaptations are concerned. Who else would dare to stare the Bard’s work down, and create such immense works of art with the stories in the Indian context. Not one or two, his was a hat-trick of hits.

His first was Macbeth to Maqbool in 2004. From untold tragedy to Mumbai’s underbelly and crime world. Outstanding performances by Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Piyush Mishra, Pankaj Kapur and Naseeruddin Shah. Then Vishal adapted Othello in 2006 and gave us Omkara, brilliantly directed, masterful performances and gritty plot. Bringing to life his vision were Saif Ali Khan, Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor and Konkana Sen Sharma.  Haider, adapted from Hamlet was the final one in the trilogy, probably the weak link, but still impactful. It changed the way people regarded Shahid Kapoor, who gave it his all. The film had Tabu (Vishal’s mascot for the trilogy), Kay Kay Menon and Shraddha Kapoor as well. 

William Shakespeare’s work has inspired directors even in the earlier decades in Indian cinema. His Comedy Of Errors has had two adaptations. One, the hilarious case of mistaken identities and confusing twins- Angoor, directed by Gulzar in 1982, starring Deven Varma, Sanjeev Kumar, Moushami Chatterjee and Aruna Irani. The other not so well known one is Do Dooni Char (not the recent one, but the one made in 1968, directed by Debu Sen and starring Kishore Kumar, Asit Sen and Tanuja.

Do Dooni Char 1968 was adapted on Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors

Mansoor Khan directed Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, a musical romance in 1988, starring a very young Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla, in his loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

One of India’s favourite authors for kids and adults alike, Ruskin Bond, has also had his stories immortalized in film. Noteworthy among them is Vishal Bharadwaj’s delightful adaptation of The Blue Umbrella in 2007. Vishal also adapted Bond’s short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands, and made a slick thriller with Priyanka Chopra and a harem of seven men in tow. This was 2011. Ruskin Bond’s novella A Flight Of Pigeons was recreated on celluloid by Shyam Benegal as Junoon in 1979, a war drama (set around the Indian rebellion of 1957). The film starred Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendall, Nafisa AliShabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah.

Mario Puzo’s Godfather has been a veritable Bible, siring innumerable desi versions for Indian audiences. The 1988 crime drama Dayavan directed by Feroz Khan with himself, Vinod Khanna, Amrish Puri and Amala in lead roles was itself a total lift from the Tamil hit film Nayakan, also a Godfather adaptation. Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan starring Kamalahasan was a hit film  though. 

Sarkar did not match up to the original

Ram Gopal Varma made Sarkar in 2005, Amitabh Bachchan playing the Godfather, a well-known politician of earlier years, grooming his son (in real life and in reel here) Abhishek to take over his empire. Dynamic desi Corleones all, the film was a thundering success, leading to 2.0 and 3.0 too. They didn’t match up to the original.  

In the more recent scenario, at polar opposite of classics being fodder for films, Chetan Bhagat, a truly mediocre to blah writer, has had five of his trashy novels adapted, and each one of them has been a good or great film. This is where the director’s skill and vision do their work I imagine. It rained Chetan Bhagat adaptations for a few years before that well dried up thankfully. The first was the Salman Khan film Hello, in 2008, which was created from Chetan’s novel One Night At A Call Centre. 2009 saw the immensely successful 3 Idiots Aamir Khan, R Madhavan and Sharman Joshi star in the adaptation of Bhagat’s bestseller Five Point Someone. That was Kareena Kapoor and director Rajkumar Hirani making up the five. Abhishek (Gattu) Kapoor directed Kai Po Che, in 2013, a film based on Bhagat’s The Three Mistakes Of My Life. Young actors Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkummar Rao and Amit Sadh unmistakenly took the film to another level with their performances. The film did well at the BO. 2 States-The Story Of My Marriage (how Chetan Bhagat met the now Mrs Bhagat) was the inspiration for the Abhishek Varman directed movie 2 states. The 2014 release starred Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt along with Revathi and Amrita Singh. In 2017, Mohit Suri directed Vikrant MasseyShraddha Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor in Half Girlfriend, based on Bhagat’s novel of the same name. It fared reasonably okay at the counters.

Directors succeeded in taking Bhagat’s mediocre books to creating films of a superlative level

There have been so many mentionable and noteworthy adaptations. From clusters, to stand–alone movies. 

The 2005 novel Q & A by diplomat Vikas Swarup was adapted as Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle in 2008.   

Aisha, a romantic comedy directed Rajshri Ojha, and produced by Anil Kapoor in 2010, is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Aisha had Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol in the cast among others 

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s inspiration for his favourite film Saawariya is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Russian romantic short story White Nights. 

Both Deepa Mehta’s films Earth (1998) and Water (2005) are from novels written by Bapsi Sidhwa  – Cracking India, and Water – A Novel. She had stellar casting in both films which were unconventional to say the least, but effectively voiced crises engagingly and artistically too.   

Deepa Mehta’s films Earth & Water are from novels written by Bapsi Sidhwa  

The 1968 film Sarawatichandra, directed by Govind Saraiya was based on a Gujarati novel of the same name by Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi. The film starring Nutan, Manish and Ramesh Deo had unforgettable music and songs by Kalyanji Anandji.

My all time beloved film would be Sukhwant Dhadda’s adaptation of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Urdu novella Ek Chadar Maili Si. The performances were tremendous and the film tore at your insides. The cast comprised Hema Malini, Rishi Kapoor, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Poonam Dhillon

Caption: Sukhwant Dhadda’s adaptation of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Urdu novella Ek Chadar Maili Si tore at your insides

 Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda the film (1992) (The Seventh Horse of the Sun) was based on the prolific writer Dharamvir Bharati’s 1952 novel if the same name. The story is an amazing maze of plots intermeshed in small town india. Shyam Benegal’s film stars Raghubir Yadav, Rajit Kapoor and others. 

Erich Segal’s novels spawned some films which we wept our eyes out at. Love story became Akhiyon Ke Jharonkhon Se (1978), romance and tragedy bleeding our very hearts. Ranjeeta, Sachin (Pilgaonkar), Madan Puri and Iftekhar acted in this Hiren Nag directed film. 

Our mythological classic, Veda Vyasa’s epic Mahabharata, is also attributed as the core story for many of our films. 

Shyam Benegal’s 1981 film Kalyug was one such. The actors all bore characters resembling those from the Mahabharata. It was all about family dynamics gone wrong and finance invariably. The stunning film boasted Shashi Kapoor, Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Anant Nag, Rekha, Raj Babbar, Amrish Puri, Victor Bannerjee, and Supriya Pathak amongst others! 

Shyam Benegal’s  Kalyug adapted on the Mahabharata was stunning

More recently Prakash Jha gave us Rajneeti in 2010. It was a political crime thriller starring Ajay Devgn, Katrina Kaif, Nana Patekar and Ranbir Kapoor. Mahabharata inspired! 

Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom was an ahead of its time film (1983) in a conservative society, based on Erich Segal’s Man Woman And Child. It talked of adultery, infidelity, and illegitimate offspring, not subjects that were ever discussed in families. The moving performances were courtesy actors Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, and child artistes Urmila Matondkar and Jugal Hansraj.

Sanjay Bhansali has some more film adaptations to his credit. With the amount of cinematic liberty he took with the films, he was threatened within an inch of his life. And the veracity and credibility of history has gotten lost amidst the sands and the billowing curtains of his films. He made Bajirao Mastani in 2015, starring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, along with Priyanka Chopra. It was supposedly based on the Marathi novel Raau, by Nagnath S Inamdar. He also took the epic poem Padmavat by Malik Muhammad Jayasi and made the film Padmaavat with a repeat of the same cast as Bajirao Mastani, minus Priyanka. Add Shahid Kapoor and Aditi Rao Hydari. 

Unlike Bhansali’s other adaptations Lootera was beautifully scripted

Bhansali also produced another one of my favourites, Lootera directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, based on O’Henry’s short story The Last Leaf. The story was beautifully scripted for film by Bhavani Iyer, and Vikramaditya. 

One of my favourite English fiction writers has to be James Hadley Chase. He’d be spinning in his grave in excitement if he knew he had diehard fans in India since decades. The 1978 action extravaganza Shalimar, directed by Krishna Shah and starring Rex Harrison, Sylvia Miles and Zeenat Aman was a heist story adapted from Chase’s The Vulture Is A Patient Bird.  

Ketan Mehta also very cleverly adapted Hadley Chase’s The Sucker Punch as Aar Ya Paar, the 1997 crime thriller, starring Jackie Shroff, Kamal Sidhu, Deepa Sahi and Ritu Shivpuri

Tell me, was the Rekha-Shekhar Suman starrer Utsav really based on the Kamasutra? 

Suguna Sundaram
Suguna Sundaram belongs to the rare breed of writers who has been editor of some of most popular (and boldest) fanzines, as also an expert in Indian classical music and dance.

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