Novels vs movies

Via The New Clarion, here is a fascinating review of a scene from the Atlas Shrugged movie. Ronald Pisaturo compares the original scene from the novel with the movie adaptation.

I would never have been able to identify all that is wrong in the movie scene, but the contrast between the movie scene and the original is obvious. Reading an analysis of the contrast – in style as well as meaning – is fascinating as it helps me understand what sets Rand’s novels apart from other novels. I have long wanted to write a review of Atlas Shrugged and lacked the ability to do so. This review of a single scene captures some key aspects of what a full review should express.

I have always thought that adapting a novel like Atlas Shrugged to the movie medium without missing a significant part of its power is impossible. Reading Pisaturo’s essay reinforced that idea. Here is the original passage from the novel

He touched the bracelet in his pocket. He had had it made from that first poured metal. It was for his wife.
As he touched it, he realized suddenly that he had thought of an abstraction called “his wife”—not of the woman to whom he was married. He felt a stab of regret, wishing he had not made the bracelet, then a wave of self-reproach for the regret.
He shook his head. This was not the time for his old doubts. He felt that he could forgive anything to anyone, because happiness was the greatest agent of purification. He felt certain that every living being wished him well tonight. He wanted to meet someone, to face the first stranger, to stand disarmed and open, and to say, “Look at me.” People, he thought, were as hungry for a sight of joy as he had always been—for a moment’s relief from that gray load of suffering which seemed so inexplicable and unnecessary. He had never been able to understand why men should be unhappy.

                   — Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

No matter how well a scene like this is adapted to the movie medium (I think Pisaturo does a good job of describing a possible adaptation), understanding the scene would remain subject to the viewer’s perceptiveness and interpretation. The novel on the other hand is unambiguous. It states everything in plain words and the meaning is impossible to miss. Speaking for myself, I would surely have missed most of the meaning in the passage in any adaptation I can imagine. And that explains why I don’t really enjoy watching movies.

Independence

Ishaan: Aaj tak koi bhi faisla mera apna nahin tha. Kuch faisle mujhe virasat mein mile. Kuch kartavya ke naam pe liye gaye. Aur baki mere mahol ne kar diye. Aaj tak koi bhi faisla sahi ya galat ka farak dekh ke nahin kiya gaya. Mere mahol ne jo mujhe diya main leta gaya, jo mujhse maanga main deta gaya. Suman, tumse milne ke baad mujhe ehsaas hua ki is daayre ke bahar bhi kuch hai.

Suman: Ishaan, tumhare saamne do hi raaste hain. Sachai chupao, ek khuni ko azaad phirne do aur apne dost se wafadaar raho. Ya sach ka saath do. Sachai ko saamne la kar us khuni ko uski saza dilao. Aur insaniyat ke naate jo hamaara farz banta hai, use poora karo. Ishaan, mere liye ye farz, apne kisi bhi niji faisle ya shapath se bahut bada hai.

— From the Hindi movie Thakshak by Govind Nihalani

Translation:

Ishaan: “Not a single decision so far has been mine. Some decisions, I inherited. Some were made in the name of duty. And the rest were made by my circumstances. Not a single decision was made by considering whether it was right or wrong. Whatever my circumstances gave me, I accepted. Whatever they demanded from me, I submitted. Suman, after meeting you, I realized that there is something beyond this.”

Suman: “Ishaan, you have only two roads ahead of you. Hide the truth, let a murderer roam free, and remain loyal to your friend. Or, support the truth. Bring the truth into the open and punish that murderer. And fulfil the duty that is ours through our humanity. Ishaan, for me this duty is much bigger than any personal decision or promise.”

This is one of the very rare moments when – briefly and inconsistently, in a raw, sense of life form – Hindi Cinema comes close to a proper understanding of morality. And then immediately afterwards it returns to the tired old cliches of duty to humanity and sacrifice of personal values.

Interesting observations from my attempt at translation.

“Sach ka saath do” : “Support the truth”. That’s the best I can think of. Not something one says in English.

Is there a word in Hindi/Urdu that means obligation as against duty. “Kartavya” and “farz” both mean duty. Or is the difference not expressible in Hindi?

3 Idiots – When the best is not good

I recently watched the Hindi movie “3 Idiots” on television. Apart from the few serious moments (which I didn’t identify with), most of it is supposed to be comedy. Apparantly it is one of the best commercial movies in recent times. There was a time when comedies were actually funny – some of Amol Palekar’s movies come to mind. These days comedies mostly consist of vulgar references to private body parts and double meaning dialogue about sex. It would be interesting to understand how this transformation came about.

Selfishness and death

I happened to watch a Hindi movie “Hu tu tu” while on a short break. The movie is about two people who are suffocated by the corruption of their politician parents and the system in general. In the climax, the couple blow themselves up along with their parents at a political rally. The socialist/communist sympathizing is disturbing but the climax is striking. It illustrates what bad philosophy does to serious minded people who question the system. Something is very wrong when killing someone, no matter how evil, becomes a higher purpose than living one’s own life. In one scene the male protagonist (Sunil Shetty) explains that he doesn’t know if what he is doing is right or wrong, but he knows that it is not selfish and that is extremely satisfying. Perhaps the script writer did not realize how effective the story line is as a warning against selflessness. A proper life is selfish and consistent selflessness is death. The movie illustrates that very well.

Update: The script is written by the celebrated Gulzar and his daughter Meghana

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