5 Bollywood Films Inspired by Classic Novels

A wise man once said that there is no such thing as a secret recipe or a hard-set formula when it comes to making good films. If there were such a set of principles to abide by, filmmaking would be more of an exact science than an art form, and bad films would be a rarity. As it turns out, there are plenty of depressingly dreadful films out there, and even the greatest of artists have committed the crime of being in a bad movie (or several!)in the course of their career. In a way, this uncertainty about the fate of the final product is a part of the exciting journey that filmmaking is. However, that is not to say that making a film is entirely a game of chance. There are certain factors – a story with a heart, a unique visual style, a compelling narrative, great cinematography or stellar performances – that can elevate a film into realms of greatness.

Now, when it comes to great stories and compelling narratives, there is a general rule of thumb that seldom fails: turn to literature for inspiration (or adaptation, to be precise). Not that there haven’t been instances of original screenplays making for great films, but the sheer number of literary adaptations that have went on to become classics make a strong case for literature as the ideal source material – that elusive secret recipe we talked about – in the making of a good film. Still sceptical? Well then, check out this list of some great works of fiction that have inspired some memorable Bollywood movies over the years.

1) The Blue Umbrella (2005)

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At the heart of Ruskin Bond’s 1980 novel was the quaint tale of a little girl named Binya and her beloved blue umbrella, which becomes the centre of attention (and even obsession) among her villagers. The idyllic setting of a village in Himachal Pradesh and the charming storyline found the perfect visual interpretation courtesy of the visionary Vishal Bhardwaj, and the film adaptation was every bit as enjoyable as the novel. And the icing on the cake? ‘The Blue Umbrella’ went on to win the Golden Lotus for Best Feature Film at the 53rd National Film Awards.

2) Devdas (Since 1928, till The End of Time!)

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Yup. The title is self-explanatory. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s evergreen classic was first adapted during the silent film era, in 1928, and has since been retold five times in Bengali, thrice in Hindi, twice in Urdu and one time each in Assamese and Telugu! In other words, India’s beloved tragic hero Devdas has drank himself to his onscreen death as many as 13 times over the past 90 years! And we are pretty sure that the story of the eternal lover and his heartbreak will continue to capture the imagination of generations to come. The real question is, will there ever be another actor to immortalise the role like Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan did?

3) Pinjar (2003)

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Set against the backdrop of partition, Amrita Pritam’s 1950 novel Pinjar told the story of Puro, a Hindu woman who becomes the victim of a long-standing family feud when she is kidnapped and forced to marry Rashid, a Muslim man. Despite the unsavoury nature of their marriage and the prevailing hostility, the two form an unlikely connection and how partition shapes the relationship between them and their families forms the rest of the story. Pinjar received a befitting onscreen adaptation in 2003, with veteran telefilm maker Chandra Prakash Dwivedi making his feature film directorial debut and Urmila Matondkar and Manoj Bajpai playing the lead roles. The film was met with critical acclaim, and went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration that year.

4) Detective Byomkesh Bakshi (2015)

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Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi is to Indian detective fiction what Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is to English detective fiction. Since his first appearance in a 1932 short story, Byomkesh has enthralled generations of Indian readers and moviebuffs, having been adapted countless times for television and the screen. From the great Satyajit Ray to Anjan Dutt, Rituporno Ghosh and Dibakar Banerjee, several eminent directors have retold the story of the great detective’s adventures; while Sujoy Ghosh, Jisshu Sengupta, Rajit Kapur and Sushant Singh Rajput have embodied the character with varying degrees of success over the years. In early 2015, Bollywood revisited the iconic character through Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi!, which was well-received by the critics and the audience alike. An untitled sequel is already in the pipeline, and Sushant Singh Rajput’s rising star value should add to the enduring appeal of the great detective.

5) The Guide (1965)

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There is no denying that R.K. Narayan was the doyen of 20th century Indian English literature. Admired around the world for his gentle humour and realistic portrayal of the Indian middle class, Narayan was often hailed in the literary circles as the Indian Chekhov. His 1958 novel, ‘The Guide’s, remains one of his most popular works, and won him a Sahitya Akademi Award in 1960. The novel was adapted into a film in 1965, with Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman in lead roles. Though Narayan wasn’t pleased with the way the film turned out, the film was a critical and commercial success, earning several accolades besides being chosen as India’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 38th Academy Awards. 42 years after its original release, The Guide was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, and in 2010, Time magazine placed the film at number four on its list of Best Bollywood Classics.

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