Beloved Works Of Literature We’d Like To See Adapted Into Bollywood films – Part I
The one complaint you hear often from filmmakers and actors in Bollywood is that they never have enough material to spin movies out of. Writers are somehow both at a premium and severely underpaid. Bollywood’s foremost filmmakers often write their own films, but several have publicly wished for the perfect story to land on their desk, shiny and eminently filmable. The dearth of material has directors turning toward South Indian cinema, old Bollywood hits, and international films for narratives they can adapt to potential Bollywood blockbusters.
Ambitious directors draw from literature for their prestige projects, some to greater critical and commercial success (Vishal Bharadwaj’s trilogy of Shakespearean tragedies, Yash Chopra’s Lord Jim retelling, Kala Patthar) than others (Abhishek Kapoor’s Fitoor, from what I’ve heard). These projects are generally very intriguing for a number of reasons. They feature already-iconic characters that can become substantive, career-defining roles for one’s favorite actors (think of Shahid Kapoor in Haider); they pose a number of fascinating challenges in terms of adapting the source material to a milieu that is identifiable and relatable to the Hindi film audience; and when they’re done right, they become revelatory, even subversive cinematic readings of familiar texts.
Since fantasy-casting my favorite books is one of my favorite pastimes, I thought of a few notable books (most of them in the public domain, which means happy producers don’t have to pay for the rights!) that would make for terrific Bollywood films. (I’ve read very little classic Indian literature, alas, but I welcome suggestions in the comments section or on Twitter!)
Book: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Plot: Poor orphan and beautiful heiress are raised side by side on the Yorkshire moors, fall in pretty insane love, elude and torment each other, and ruin the lives of everyone around them, setting off a generations-spanning tragedy. Plus ghosts!
What it’d look like: Bronte’s wild novel is perfect for the sort of magnificent, infuriating melodramas Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes. (The director has successfully adapted Romeo and Juliet and the historical novel Rau into Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela and Bajirao Mastani respectively, and took inspiration from the Bengali novel Na Hanyate for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.) Bhansali does a good job of setting his films outside the metro-centric Punjabi world that one sees in most Bollywood films, and this one would give him the opportunity to go up into the mountains for some gorgeous location shooting. He could also build his giant, detailed sets for the desi version of Wuthering Heights (the manor) and Thrushcross Grange.
Bhansali was at his most political in Bajirao Mastani, and would perhaps be able to dramatize in interesting ways the conflicts of class (and, in an Indian setting, perhaps caste) that were rife in Wuthering Heights. I’d advise him to focus on the Heathcliff-Cathy love story and truncate the stuff with their children.
Cast: Ranveer Singh has the swagger and unpredictable sex appeal for Heathcliff, but he’d also find a way to find humanity and even humor in a role that could easily go dour and insufferable. Kareena Kapoor, with her splendid, wilful hauteur, would be a memorable Cathy, as would Huma Qureshi, were Bhansali to go more indie, which is unlikely. Imran Khan, who is a pleasing albeit limited actor, could play Linton, while Shraddha Kapoor would do well as Isabella. Alternately, Vikrant Massey and Aditi Rao Hydari would do nicely in those supporting parts as well.
The second part of this series lands next week, but meanwhile, what are books you’d like to see Bolly adaptations of? Tweet at me @salandthebadpun or comment below!