Books And Movies: "Oh, The Book Is Better."

Food for Thought



              I first dived deep in the ocean of Bengali literature, when one lousy winter afternoon I started reading Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s ‘Pather Panchali’ (Song of the little road). A complete diversion from the comic strips of Nonte-Fonte or Tenida, Pather Panchali opened my eyes to the beauty that lay in the most unexpected of places – rural, poverty-struck Bengal. And in the lives of those struggling to live there. I imagined Durga, I imagined the poverty-stricken villagers. Being a thirteen-year old, I imagined Durga to be as beautiful as Madhuri Dixit, overlooking Durga’s harsher reality. What came as a shock was Durga’s death. I imagined the scene where Apu throws the necklace after Durga’s death which she had stolen, into the pond and the lotus leaves covering up the place where the necklace enters the water, signifying the burial of a small secret memory in collision with nature. I imagined Apu howling over his sister’s corpse and his parents still and overwhelmed with grief. I imagined the village of Nagari, Siuri crying with them.

However, a complete different portrait was sketched by Ray in his film Pather Panchali. Through Ray’s eyes I re-lived the moments of Apu-Durga. I surely didn’t picture Nagari the way Ray did. It was filthy yet beautiful, it was dark and deadly yet catkins grew. The scene where Apu-Durga hold hands and run across the fields of catkins to catch a glimpse of the steam engine gave me goosebumps. Although what I had imagined was completely different, my field was vast and in my imagination Apu-Durga did catch the train.




A masterstroke from the master himself, Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali neither shattered my beliefs, nor made me question my creativity of imagining Pather Panchali without the aid of Ray. His version of Apu-Durga is beyond comparison; he filmed a story but the imagination of a thirteen-year old is innocent poetry.

We don’t have the sense of smell and colour that our minds can create. We see an expression in a movie, but we can feel the expression in a book. Reading the book instead of watching the movie is the best way to see what the author had intended. Reading helps us to imagine characters, places and things. How they feel, how they look, the colour and the texture-thus helping us to make our own movie. We imagine how the Benett sisters can be dressed and how insanely Catherine can say, “I am Heathcliff”. How Harry kisses Ginny, how sexually and emotionally vulnerable Lady Macbeth becomes and how Gatsby finally becomes filthy rich.

Yes we do provide life to our wildest dreams and expectations for which we need not be dependent on the Warner Bros or Paramount Pictures. Honestly, I imagined Harry’s first kiss with Cho under the mistletoes to be more passionate in Order of the Phoenix. Unfortunately, the director ruined my teenage fantasy and portraits of Harry’s first romantic moment. It wasn’t even close to what I had imagined.

Sometimes writers intentionally give vague descriptions so that the readers can make up their own versions - we imagined the Hogwarts Express and the Great Hall before we actually saw them in the movie. Words and sentences can have different implications on different people. How we see them is a reflection of our personality and imaginative power. But when we watch a movie, things look a certain way. The director presents his views and his interpretation to us. In order to stay with the story we have to abide by that view - in a way that helps us to comprehend better, but also restricts the horizon of our visual. We actually believe that things are as we see them. We fail to apply our creative abilities to form a different picture.

When we read there is no picture provided to us, hence we imagine. By analysing the simple ideas and concepts, the readers develop so many aspects of the stories and characters which probably the author hasn’t even thought about. Movies are wonderful things. They are visual masterpieces and can grip the viewers in several different ways, but are not more intimate than books. Books are left upto the reader’s interpretation. The readers get to think for his or her own self instead of observing a 2-hour film with weakly-developed characters and the director’s thoughts strewn across the screen. With the imagination and connection between the author and the reader comes the many ways a book can be interpreted.

In the film world, if the way a viewer interprets a movie’s themes and overlying messages is different than what the director’s views are, either the director is considered to be shoddy or the viewers to be an inadequate evaluator.

Books are made into films. Not the other way round. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s never, “The book wasn’t really like the movie”, it is – “Goodness, the movie wasn’t really like the book!”

Photography By: Zubair Alam