“I examine 8 of the worst movies based on books that give currency to the popular axiom – ‘The book was better’. Does you list match mine?”
What could be a bibliophile’s worst nightmare? Many things indeed! For me it is to see my favourite book being meddled with, in order to be adapted for the silver screen. As committed readers, we revel in the beauty of books, its story, its plot and its characters, and hold them sacred as some of them deeply influence us and leave an indelible mark on us, long after we turn the last page. There are numerous examples in tinseltown from Harry Potter movies to classics like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when movies based on books have entertained the viewers and raked in big moolah at the box office. But very often in the name of ‘creative freedom’ film makers fiddle with the book and introduce unnecessary plot twists, new endings, new characters and either make the film melodramatic or completely undermine the emotional core of the book in favour of the added fluff. It’s akin to mending something that was never broken.
However, it must be noted that not all movies based on novels are bad. The visual medium indeed demands certain changes when a book is turned into a movie. There are the likes of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and Pradeep Sarkar’s ‘Pareenita’ in Hindi, where the film adaptations have not only captured the nuances and the true essence of the book but also made the movies more engaging than the book. The following movies based on books however have failed to remain true to the book and have translated into bad adaptations.
1. Eat Pray Love
It is the spiritual journey of Julia Roberts in a quest to heal herself through travel. The changes in the book dilute the plot instead of sharpening it. In the book she suffers a breakdown which justifies her taking off to foreign lands. However, in the movie, she suffers from no such thing and the stakes are really low – not enough justification is provided for her to leave a good life and hence her reason for travel is not convincing enough. She comes across more of a snob rather than an empowered woman. Hence, defeating the whole purpose of the movie.
Not everyone will agree but ‘A flight of Pigeons’ by Ruskin Bond was rendered ineffective in it’s film adaptation ‘Junoon’ even in the hands of a deft filmmaker like Shyam Benegal. The film successfully evokes the feel and look off the small town Shahjahanpur in 1857 but it overshot the emotional frequency. The novel very subtly depicts the undercurrents and the feelings the protagonist Javed Khan harbors for Ruth, a British girl. The film however deposes with subtlety altogether, and makes Javed Khan shout out his feelings at the top of his lungs, leaving no room for imagination.
Towards the end of the book, there is an exceptionally powerful scene where Javed Khan is hoping to see Ruth one last time before he turns his back on her forever. Ruth quietly appears from the darkness and stands in front of Javed Khan, this against her mother’s wishes. Anybody who has read the book would vouch for the impact the scene has on readers. Unfortunately, the most important scene in the book falls flat and fails to evoke the same emotional impact as it does in the book.
3. Harry Potter
The whole Harry Potter movie series is one extended nightmare for die hard Potter fans even as they launched the careers of its protagonists, who have come to be identified with the book characters. All movies skip plot markers and gloss over important details. But the final two movies in the series take the prize. The final scene of Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows which depicts the battle between Harry and Voldemort is computer generated imagery and has little sense. Nagini looks straight out of a cartoon film, and her decapitation fails to impress or stun the viewer, as it does in the book. Moreover, the slaying is shown to be a fortuitous moment when Neville rescues Ron and Hermione at the last moment from the monster. In the book Neville shows immense courage by drawing the sword of Gryffindor from the sorting hat and slaying the serpent after nearly being charred to death at Voldemort’s Hands. Similarly, the scene where Harry and Voldemort fall down a great height flying in the air is completely made up, and the final duel misses out on the most important detail of the differing spells – while Voldemort aims to kill, Harry only aims to disarm. The movie glosses it over in dramatic music, and as such robs the narrative of its charm.
Set in the call centre milieu, Chetan Bhagat’s second novel ‘One Night at the Call Centre’ was a hot-selling success and a topic of widespread blog discussions. Though the film is largely faithful to the book, my major problem with the film it is too filmy, has bad acting and has tepidly pictured scenes where God converses with the characters in the film. It neither has the surreal, nor has the stately feel to lend credence to its life changing scene in the film.
5. Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been adapted for screen as many as 16 times! It is the 1940 version that I find hard of relate to. With loud screeching, gimmicky costumes, stiff body language it has artificiality written all over it. Elizabeth played by Greer Garson is playful but with far too much sobbing into handkerchiefs, while wearing bizarre gowns, which are not only historically inaccurate but rather hilarious. Laurence Olivier makes for a terrible Darcy, completely ruining the proposal scene with his terrible delivery of dialogue and stony expressions.
Poor Dostoyevsky must be turning in his grave to see his beautiful story “White Nights,” being made into a soulless and dull Bollywood flick – Sawaariya. The film is an eye and ear candy, with lavish sets, colorful costumes and achingly melodious songs. If only it wasn’t so plain boring and pointless! Even the towel clad debutant Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor failed to make it sizzle on the big screen.
7. My Sisters Keeper
The movie had the wrong sister die! In the book it’s the healthy sister who dies, while the one with cancer lives on for several years. Not only that, the moral and ethical dilemma that parents face to put one daughter under the needle to save another is beautifully explored in the book by Jodi Picoult. While the movie is a sentimental run-of-the-mill melodrama with a predictable ending.
“Fitoor” is based on Charles Dicken’s novel ‘Great Expectations’. It makes the common mistake that many poor book-to-film adaptations make – it neither elevates the book upon which it is based nor is it able to breathe new life into the novel. Though the lead actors Tabu and Aditya Roy Kapoor gave impressive performances, the uninspiring script limited them. In the book, the highs and lows in protagonist Pip’s character to win his ladylove make the final win very satisfying. However, in the movie the satisfaction of seeing lovers reunite doesn’t work because their story isn’t developed enough. The movie completely lacks the passion we saw in Dickens characters.