Humility. Kindness. Gratitude.” and “Love is the answer.”
— The Good Day I Died: The Near-Death Experience of a Harvard Divinity Student by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Desmond’s post-structuralist book was released in good time to be wrapped as a Christmas present in Singapore — with the values he speaks of, it deserves that. Meanwhile, on Christmas, 2019, was released a film in United States that spoke of similar values — a film called Little Women adopted from a quasi- autobiographical series written from the 1860s to1880s by Louisa M Alcott, a movie that hopes to take Singapore by storm from 16th January, 2020.
As of January 12, 2020 — in two weeks of its world release — the film grossed $74 million in the United States and Canada, and $33.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $107.2 million. It has won much critical acclaim and was chosen by both the American Film Institute and the Time magazine as one of the top ten films of 2019. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards it received two nominations; in the British Academy Film Awards, it received five and six Academy Awards nominations — with all three-nominations naming Saoirse Ronan for the Best Actress and the last two including Florence Pugh for the Best Supporting Actress, and Greta Gerwig for the Best Adapted Screenplay.
With a star-studded cast — Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Pugh, Timothée Hal Chalamet, James Norton — and more, the family drama centring around the American Civil War had the audience at the screening in its grip. It was little surprising while leaving the hall at the Singapore preview, that a woman was excitedly talking to a friend in part-Chinese part- English about how she empathised with the characters in Little Women. And through the screening, one could sense the audience palpitate emotionally in waves with murmurs rising and falling in a crescendo — fully absorbed by the events on the screen.
Still from 2019 production showing the four sisters
That sounds exclusive and enticing… made one feel like a star. But it was just a start — a start to showcase what a small group of talented individuals can do.
The idea for the fourteen-and-a-half-minute film brewed over a cup of coffee where writer Tanuj Khosla shared his story with actress Renita Kapoor. Kapoor said she always wanted to play a dark character and the story offered that.
Set in an indeterminate interior, in this case Kapoor’s house in Singapore, the film mapped the life of a stand-up comedian couple in India (and there is no way to figure out where the locale is if it is all within a room). We know the country because the dialogues mention the fact that the husband is a top comedian in India. The movie is mainly conversation between the couple — in a mix of colloquial Hindi with a smattering of English — the way any person would in a well-to do Hindi speaking Indian home.
The story takes a strange twist.
The wife is Kapoor. And the husband? The husband is no less than actor Shishir Sharma, a well-known actor on stage, television and Bollywood in India.
For fifteen minutes, no one spoke. No one moved. And all eyes were glued to the screen that told a gripping tale with a strange twist at the end.
Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab and Filmwallas made his grand debut as a director of this film – The Sacrifice. Why would Zafar Anjum — a writer with a number of books under his belt and some published by Penguin — move to direction and filmmaking?
He is a well-known figure on television. He is a prominent actor in films… a good friend to famed actor Nasseruddin Shah and actress Ratna Pathak. He is kind to young filmmakers who start their career and does short films for them as he recently did in Singapore. He starred in Kitaab and Filmwalla founder Zafar Anjum’s first short film that has been shown to the public — a fourteen-and-a-half-minute movie called The Sacrifice with a talented actress from Singapore, Renita Kapoor.
And yet this man has a secret, a small office in Mumbai where he spends time by himself and writes. Meet Shishir Sharma, the character actor who can be seen on stage in theatre, on the silver screen, both in Indian television and cinema.
And what does the actor write?
You would think… it would be something for the screen or maybe about his life. But no, he writes about his parents and his father’s past. For spoilers, the story starts as a romantic one. Picture this: 1951 — in sepia tone — A young man in his early twenties goes off to get milk as does a fifteen-year-old girl. This would be a common thing but, wait, the story does not end there. The two meet and they travel in the opposite direction from their home on train to spend time with each other unbeknown to their families and, a few years later, they are married, and they have their first child — Shishir Sharma.
Talking to Shishir Sharma was not just a privilege but like a walk through the annals of Indian theatre and film history. His parents were involved with theatre and films, including the Leftists IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association founded in 1943 to bring cultural awakening among Indians during the independence struggle). Though his father earned a living through his small business, the interest in theatre and films stayed. He was even part of the production unit of NFDC (National Film Development Corporation) when the legendary film Garam Hawa was filmed in 1970s, says Sharma. Based on an unpublished story by the noted Urdu writer, Ismat Chugtai, this award-winning film gives a poignant telling on the impact of the 1947 Partition.
Living in Mumbai moving around with friends Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak, Sharma was cajoled into theatre in 1974 by a person no less than Satyadev Dubey, an Indian theatre director, actor, playwright, screen writer and director and winner of numerous national awards ultimately crowned by the fourth highest civilian honour in India, Padma Bhushan. He had trained outstanding actors like Amrish Puri, Amol Palekar and, later, Nasseruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak and Neena Kulkarni, says Sharma. He was picked together with Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak. He tells a story of how Dubey came into Pathak’s house and found the three friends having a meal. He asked them to join his group. Sharma refused initially but eventually gave in.
From theatre he moved to television in 1993 with Swabhiman that came after Buniyad, both popular television serials in the early days of soaps in India. They were very well paid in those days, says Sharma.
Satyam, his first film was in Telugu. That came after some more years. Sharma started acting in a number of Telugu movies. And he actually has a Telugu tutor coming in to teach him the language. “All the characters I play are not really Telugu. They don’t want the pukka (pure) Telugu accent.”
Raazi… courtesy Democracy News Live
Then came more films, this time in Hindi; among them, the national award-winning films, Uri and Raazi, and short films, like Roganjosh, where he and Naseeruddin Shah, were back together. Roganjosh, written and directed by Sanjeev Vig, won the Best Filmfare Award in the category of short films and is an emotional telling of how the terrorist bomb blast of Bombay Taj in 2007 destroyed the lives of everyday men and women. He was picked for this movie, Sharma says, because of his forty-four-year-old friendship with Naseeruddin Shah. Their mutual camaraderie was an asset to the film.
Ted Chiang is an American born Chinese writer , a technical writer in a software company, who has never written a novel, meandered through short stories and novellas and yet won multiple awards for his works. His telling centres around science fiction.
Chiang’s parents migrated from China to Taiwan with their families during the Communist revolution and then to America.
His 1998 novella, Story of my Life, was made into a Hollywood film, Arrival, in 2002 . Both the review and the movie were given a “10 out of 10” in the Kirkus Review. It’s major themes being language and determinism, the story is spun out by a linguist called Dr Loius Banks who has an unborn child in her womb and faces aliens. The novella has won numerous awards and accolades.
(On Bimal Roy’s 110thBirth Anniversary, Ratnottama Sengupta traces his enduring affair with books.)
“Bimal Da and I – particularly I, being a writer – always looked to literature for story, the raw material of cinema. People can and do write original scripts for the silver screen, but we did not prefer that because it tends to be hurried writing. We preferred to source our films from books because a writer has already worked on an idea, on the character, on the logic of their action, and its final resolution…”
–Nabendu Ghosh(1917-2007) in And They Made Classics…
He was already a recognised name in Bengali literature when Nabendu Ghosh met Bimal Roy, his film guru. Bimal Roy was a voracious reader. The reasons for this were many.
To begin with Bimal Roy, since school days, had been friends with Sudheesh Ghatak, brother of Manish Ghatak who is better known to Bengali readers as Jubanaswa, a radical writer of the Kallol era introducing modernism, who drew litterateurs like Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (1898-1971) to his house. The entire family had the gift of story-telling — and not only the eldest brother but also his daughter Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016) and his youngest brother Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976). Even Sudheesh Ghatak has won accolades for this art.
Eventually, Bimal Roy’s penchant for photography took him to New Theatres (NT) which had, since its inception, transcreated the major novels and stories of writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra and Sarat Chandra. In fact NT produced not only Tagore’s own Natir Puja (The Dancer’s Prayer, 1932) but also the comedy, Chirakumar Sabha (Bachelor’s Conference, 1932) and Arghya (Offerings, 1937), besides Kapal Kundala (Bankim Chandra, 1933), Dena Paona (Give and Take, 1931), Palli Samaj (Rural Society, 1932), Grihadaaha (House on Fire, 1936), Devdas (1936), Bardidi (Elder Sister, 1939), Kashinath (1943), Biraj Bou (Biraj the Wife, 1946), and Ramer Sumati (The Redemption of Ram, 1947) — all from Sarat Chandra stories.
Three Idiots, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Crazy Rich Asians have made history in cinema and they started out as mere books, Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Ahmad and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.
Bhagat was cited by The New York Times as “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history” and was also included in the Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Ahmad’s book made it big not just in its own rights, climbing up to #4 on the The New York Times Bestseller list and winning multiple awards and accolades, the film catapulted his book as one that addressed humanitarian concerns and won the German film award for peace and at least five more international awards. Kwan also made it to the Times list of the hundred most influential people and was named as “five writers to watch” on the ‘Hollywood’s Most Powerful Authors’ in The Hollywood Reporter. Their cinematic launches helped them make it huge!
But did you ever wonder how their books made it to the big screen? How did they sell their film rights? And as an author, what all should you be looking out for when you sell your book’s film rights?
Today, we meet the man who can help authors evade controversies and make it from books to movies… He is the man who has made it a business to help writers sell their books to film-makers. Meet Siddharth Jain, the founder of The Story Ink (TSI), India’s first story company for premium content for screen. It is also “India’s No.1 Book to Screen Adaptation Company” and has sold the adaptation rights of almost 70 books to Producers/Studios in India. It is now expanding its footprint by solving the story problem for Indian regional language content producers and international producers, who are searching for local stories for global audiences.
TSI was founded in April 2018 by Jain who had earlier worked for India’s largest OTT (over the top) — Hotstar.com (now acquired by Disney from Fox), iRock Films, Adlabs Films (Reliance Entertainment), Hyperion Studio — Los Angeles and Baazee.com (Ebay India). In a recent interview with scroll.in , Jain said that five years from now he sees himself “reading a book a day” and curating great stories for films. In this exclusive interview, he explains how books are made into films… through options agreements.
The first Africans came to Japan in 1546 in a Portuguese ship as slaves and shipmates. But that did not impact Japanese lore as much as the black samurai who came to Japan in 1579 in the service an Italian Jesuit missionary fromthe Indies, India in the case of this missionary. (The term Indies was inclusive of the South East Asian areas influenced by Indian culture.)
His story has captured much media attention this year with Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther (2018) fame cast as the black samurai for an MGM movie and with Netflix planning an animation on him.
When the young man arrived in Kyoto in 1579, he was not a samurai. He rose to be one after a powerful Japanesefeudal lord, Oda Nobunaga, in the Sengoku period (1467 to 1600) took a fancy to him. He became a famous samurai known as Yasuke . After the death of his master, he became a ronin, a samurai without a master.
Title: Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route
Text: Goutam Ghose, Michael Haggaig
Photographs: Goutam Ghose
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Date of publication: 2019
Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route is joint collaboration by award-winning Indian filmmaker Gautam Ghose and British writer and producer, Michael Haggiag. Ghose in his introduction has named this venture ‘a film-book’ because it is based on his five-part documentary, a cinematic marvel, also named Beyond The Himalayas.
Made in 1996, his documentary had been screened extensively on Doordarshan (India), Discovery and BBC in the late 1990s. The book, Beyond the Himalayas, commemorates the silver jubilee of the journey he undertook to make the documentary in 1994. Ghose writes in his introduction:“The so-called ‘present’ is a fraction of fractions betweenthe past and the future and hence the present moments are stored in our memory as recent or remote past. …. This book narrates one such vivid memory , a once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure.”
In his introduction to the book, Ghose reveals how he came across old negatives and slides which featured their journey through the meandering valleys and endless deserts of the fabled Silk Road more than two decades ago in a ‘caravan’ of jeeps. Breath-taking reproductions of these negatives and slides intersperse the narrative which is based on the script of the documentary.
Munshi Premchand(1880-1936), born as Dhanpat Rai Shrivastav, was one of the foremost Hindi writers of the early twentieth century. He has to his credit more than three hundred short stories, fourteen novels, many more essays, letters translations and plays and even a film script.
His short story Shatranj ke Khiladi was made into an award winning film by Satyajit Ray as were a number of his other works by noted directors, like Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
With his reformatory zeal and an ability to create empathetic overtones, Premchand was a prominent writer in Hindi who was appreciated more after his death than before. Writes David Rubin, late translator and scholar, in The World of Premchand(Oxford, 2001): “To Premchand belongs the distinction of creating the genre of the serious short story—and the serious novel as well—in both Hindi and Urdu. Virtually single-handed he lifted fiction in these languages from a quagmire of aimless romantic chronicles to a high level of realistic narrative comparable to European fiction of the time; and in both languages, he has, in addition, remained an unsurpassed master.” Interestingly, Rubin taught for a number of years in Allahabad and Rajasthan Universities in India and is also known to have translated not only Premchand but also another very well-known Hindi poet, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’.
Ratnottama Sengupta is a well-known personality in the world of media and films in India.
Formerly Arts Editor with The Times of India, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication, writings books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written widely on Hindi films; served the CBFC, the NFDC Script Committee, the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National award. In recent times she has authored, translated and edited Chuninda Kahaniyaan, Kadam Kadam, Me and I, That Bird Called Happiness. In 2018, she debuted as a film director with And They Made Classics, a film that captures the journey of her eminent father, an award winning screenwriter cum author, Nabendu Ghosh.
Having grown up in an atmosphere surrounded by all the Bollywood greats, Ratnottama Sengupta gave Team Kitaab an exclusive with stories of growing up amidst Bollywood legends like Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari and Nutan, taking us with her through her unique journey to both penmanship and films. We present her journey to you in two parts…
Team Kitaab: What made you choose your calling that of a person who writes on cinema? From what stage in your life have you been writing, especially on cinema?
Ratnottama: Sometimes, life decides your choice of calling…
I was born into a household which had books on the shelves, on the table, on the bed, underneath the bed too. I grew up ‘playing’ with books, ‘reading’ books even before I knew the alphabet, looking at the illustrations and admiring the images. Since my father was an MA in Literature, he had the cream of world literature in his ‘library’. And because he was simultaneously writing screenplays (for most of the major names of Hindi screen through 1950s-60s), he would get the film magazines and cine broadsheets too. So I grew up symbiotically connected with the parallel worlds of letters and images.