x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Books finally influence cinema in India

India's publishing industry is rapidly expanding in terms of home-grown authors and mass appeal, and that is translating into traction in Bollywood.

A scene from the movie 3 Idiots which was loosely based on the book Five Point Someone. Courtesy Vinod Chopra Productions
A scene from the movie 3 Idiots which was loosely based on the book Five Point Someone. Courtesy Vinod Chopra Productions

Amish Tripathi never thought anyone would agree to publish his books, let alone want to turn one into a movie. But the spectacular success of his trilogy, based on the mythological stories of God Shiva, caught the attention of the filmmaker Karan Johar who, in January, bought the movie rights to Tripathi's first book, The Immortals of Meluha.

In Bollywood, Johar is credited with an uncanny ability to tap into the pulse of India's biggest dividend - its youth. And it is the unlikely youthful appeal of Tripathi's books on mythology - a subject that rarely endears itself to the young and restless - that made association possible. There are more than 558,000 copies of his first two books in print, with retail sales reaching Rs13 crore (Dh8.8 million). The third book is due out at the end of this year.

Unlike Hollywood, which frequently borrows its ideas from the publishing industry, India's filmmakers have never had much interest in Indian books. If any, Bollywood's concession to works of fiction was limited to well-known, predictable and dramatic storylines of plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet. But India's publishing industry is rapidly expanding in terms of home-grown authors, contemporary storylines, modern language and mass appeal - and that is translating into traction in Bollywood.

Chetan Bhagat was the first mass-appeal author to break this barrier. The runaway success The 3 Idiots, released earlier this year, was loosely based on his book, Five Point Someone, as was a later flop film called Hello that was based on his book, One Night @ the Call Center. More recently, another of Bhagat's books, The 3 Mistakes of My Life, will soon be released as Kai Po Che - a film by Abhishek Kapoor.

At a recent film convention, Bhagat said that literature and Bollywood complement each other.

"The audience is starting to demand it. Bollywood needs to adapt it to grow to its potential, not just to make money, but to be a great industry where there is both commercial and creative growth."

Gautam Padmanabhan, the chief executive of Westland Publishing, has also noticed the trend in home-grown stories.

"Earlier, most so-called Indian books or books on India were by authors from abroad. They were about their experiences, but at the same time, they were in a westernised style. Today, writers are focused about their own experiences, and language is not necessarily English as spoken by outsiders but Indianised English, with idioms and references. Back in the day, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer would dominate bestseller lists but today there are Indian writers at the top."

Indian writers are also dabbling in previously untested genres, including horror, crime and even science fiction. Tripathi's books and Ashwin Sanghi's Chanakya's Chant, with movie rights acquired by UTV Software Communications in June of last year, prove there is also an appetite for mythology on the page and the screen.

"The main factor is that these books don't just sell in the cities, but also in tier-two and tier-three towns that will also be the audience for these films," says Padmanabhan.

And as the publishing industry changes, so too are Hindi films. Storylines and ideas have been trumping big-star and special effects movies. Small-budget movies are succeeding because of what the industry calls the multiplex audience.

"Books were big in the early 1940s and 1950s, and great films such as Devdad, Shonar Kella and Feluda were made, but that died out in the 1960s to the 1990s," says Tripathi. "In the past two years, filmmakers realised that good stories can make a ripple. Movies might not have big stories but become hits because of a good plot line. Concept movies have space and they are realising that stories can be a source of competitive advantage."