It often seems like the story is the Achilles' heel of a Bollywood film. From boring to silly, Hindi films often tank because how lazily they are written.
However, films which have been adapted from popular works of literature already have half the battle won. You already have a story which resonates with a great number of people and only a filmmaker with a special kind of talent ends up making a mess of a good story. Thankfully, in the history of Bollywood, films adapted from books have done fairly well at the box office and some others received critical acclaim.
From Guru Dutt to Vidhu Vinod Chopra, every filmmaker has found inspiration in the likes of Munshi Premchand, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and even Chetan Bhagat. Here's a list that will convince you that Bollywood should turn more books into films.
The novel was adapted to three Hindi versions of Devdas (1936, 1955 and 2002)
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's Bengali magnum opus, published in 1917, till date, remains one of the most loved and popular novellas to be turned into a movie. In fact, it has been adapted on screen in India at least 14 times till date, including in Assamese and Telugu films. Devdas is a tragic-romantic saga of two star-crossed lovers who part ways till a heartbroken Devdas takes to alcohol to drown his sorrows. However, Devdas, the novel explored the contentious caste issue in India -- Paro hailed from a lower caste -- which wasn't dealt with competently in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's adaptation. The film was all froth, colour and melodrama.
The movie Parineeta (2005) starred Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's popular Bengali novellas, Parineeta, was written in 1914. Although not as popular as Devdas, Parineeta has seen more than one screen adaptation with one big-budget Bollywood version in 2005. Parineeta has a young couple in love negotiate the fragile and daunting issues of class in early 20th century Bengal and their own and their own vulnerabilities. A 1969 Bengali version of the same film starring Soumitra Chattopadhyay dealt with the class conflict with much more erudition that the glossy Bollywood blockbuster did.
3. Umrao Jaan Ada
The novel was adapted into two stunning movies by the same name, Umrao Jaan (1981 and 2006)
Umrao Jaan Ada (1899) by Mirza Hadi Ruswa has captured the imagination of many filmmakers for the sheer lyrical nature of its prose and the heart-wrenching story. The Urdu novel follows the journey of Amiran, who is kidnapped as a child and is sold to a courtesan. The young girl then grows up in a kotha and trains in music and dance. Amiran who is eventually christened as Umrao Jaan, goes on to lead an eventful life fraught with heartbreak and disappointment, till she is forced to flee from the kotha during the Siege of Lucknow.
4. A Flight Of Pigeons
The movie, Junoon (1978), starred Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Deepti Naval
Ruskin Bond's novella, A Flight Of Pigeons, is set in the background of the Indian rebellion against the British in 1857. When Ruth Labadoor's father is killed by the Indian rebels, the family is forced to seek refuge with Lala Ramjimal. But when Javed Khan, a Pathan chieftain, discovers that the family is hiding with the Lala, he drags them out of Lala's house and brings them home, leading to his wife's jealousy and his brother's ire. Things take a worse turn as Javed Khan falls in love with Ruth, while the British forces start defeating the Indian rebels.
5. The Guide
The movie, Guide (1965), starred Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman
The Guide (1958) is R. K. Narayan's award-winning novel that follows the journey of Raju, a tour guide, who, by a strange twist of fate ends up being considered as the man who will save the land from the scourge of drought. So he, unwillingly at first, goes on a fast. Prior to that Raju meets and falls for Rosie, a beautiful woman married to an older man. Purists won't agree with Vijay Anand's interpretation of Narayan's iconic novel and often accuses the film of diluting the complicated issues of morality that the book explored. However, replete with melodious songs, Guide the film was loved by a majority of its audience down the years.
6. The Blue Umbrella
The National Award winning children's movie, The Blue Umbrella (2005), stars Pankaj Kapur
Ruskin Bond's short story of the same name was adapted into a movie by Vishal Bharadwaj. The movie received the National Award for Best Children's Film. Bond's short story follows Binya, who one day finds a blue Japanese umbrella, while herding her cattle. A prettier object wasn't seen in her humble Himachali village before and it catches the eye of the greedy shopkeeper, Ram Bharosa, who has made up his mind to make it his own.
7. Shatranj Ke Khiladi
The short story was adapted into a movie, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977), by Satyajit Ray
Munshi Premchand's short story, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1924) was adapted into a movie by Satyajit Ray. The short story revolves around the nawabs of Awadh who did not have the tactical competency to fight the British but were immersed into a life of artistry, poetry and chess. While the kingdom was getting gradually usuruped by the East India Company, the noblemen were only interested in a game of chess. The story is a scathing commentary on the wilfulness of India's nobility who immersed themselves in luxury and hedonism, making it perfectly easy for the English to take over the subjects.
The movie, Pinjar (2003), stars Urmila Matondkar, Manoj Bajpai and Sanjay Suri
Noted Punjabi poet and author, Amrita Pritam's novel by the same name is set during the Partition of India. A woman, Puro is kidnapped by Rashid, whose family has a long, troubled history with that of Puro's. One day, Puro manages to flee, but on returning she finds that her family is unwilling to take her back. Pinjar deftly exposes the hypocrisies underlying the structure of morality in India.
9. Saheb Bibi Golam
The movie, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), was directed by Guru Dutt
Bimal Mitra's Saheb Bibi Golam has intrigued filmmakers down the years. The novel's protagonist Pateshwari, referred to has 'Chhoto Bou', challenged conventional morality and the novel gave her desire the kind of agency that women struggled to replicate in real life at the time. The novel also brings alive the zamindari system's rapid downfall, helmed by hedonism and complacence.
10. Susanna's Seven Husbands
In the movie, 7 Khoon Maaf (2011), Priyanka Chopra played the character of Susanna
The movie is based on Ruskin Bond's short story Susanna's Seven Husbands. Bond's later reworked and extended the story of Susanna for the movie adaption. The story tracks the life of Susanna, a young, vulnerable woman who is perpetually unhappy in her relationships -- only, she finds a way out of each of them. And no prizes for guessing she kills the husbands. The dark humour of Susanna's Seven Husbands was quite unlike the happy, pleasant worldview of Ruskin Bond's other popular works.
11. 2 States: The Story Of My Marriage
The movie, 2 States (2014), stars Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt
Chetan Bhagat's novel, 2 States: The Story Of My Marriage (2009), was adapted into a movie starring Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. The novel follows Krish, a Punjabi boy, and Ananya, a Tamil girl, who are in love and wish to get married. The problem, however, is how do the parents take to the two clashing cultures.
12. The Three Mistakes Of My Life
The movie, Kai Po Che! (2013), stars Rajkumar Rao and Sushant Singh Rajput
Another of Chetan Bhagat's bestsellers, this movie is based on The Three Mistakes Of My Life (2008). The novel follows the narrator, Govind, his close friends Ishaan and Omi, the love of his life Vidya, and the three mistakes that shape his life. The film, however, was accused of glossing over the complicated issues of religious tension and religious fanaticism that was actually emphasised on in Chetan Bhagat's book.
13. Five Point Someone
The movie, 3 Idiots (2009), became one of the biggest hits of that year
Vidhu Vinod Chopra's blockbuster hit was inspired from Chetan Bhagat's novel Five Point Someone (2004). The novel follows three friends and their life at an engineering institute and how people pressurise their kids to only pursue engineering and medical degrees -- not really what they want. The film was perhaps as big a hit as the book it was based on.