From Words to Frames – Part IV


In this conclusive part we shall think about the challenges of adopting literature into films. There is a reader and a viewer inside every one of us? Does he/she have the similar sensibilities while we take up one of these roles? Do the reader and the viewer in us expect the same? Lets us probe the answer.


Words to films



Literary Adaptations – Some Challenges

Some writers will never allow their works to be adopted for screen. I get reminded about reading some where one of the novelist’s replied while asked about the denial, “Novel is a personal cinema that runs in the mind of every reader. When my novel is made into a film its images kill that mental imagery”, he replied.

Every creative work intends to reach as many readers/ viewers as possible. We, in the previous parts of this series, have observed how literary works and cinema connect themselves to their consumers in ways that are completely different from each other. In fact, they take exactly the opposite ways.

In general a literary work that become popular in its book form, finds its way to screen adaptations. Hence a film adaptation occurs much later, after millions of readers have read that work in its book form itself. So every reader, during reading, would’ve evolved a mental imagery about the story and its characters. The director, who as a reader primarily, would also have read the work he has chosen to adapt to screen, needless to say he might also have his personal mental imagery of what he/she has read. The filmmaker would naturally blend his mental imagery with this vision while adapting the work in its visual form.





If a film adaptations is said to have succeeded in word to frame transformation, actually mean that work lies much similar to ‘general mental imagery’ of the readers, who have now become the audience of the work. Literary adaptations naturally get accepted by the viewer, the degree to which it resembles the individual mental imagery of them as readers in general.


The Viewer and The Reader

Just think about a novel you read as a reader, and watched the same on screen as a viewer, for instance. On careful self-analysis we mind get surprised that our sensibilities as a reader and viewer has changed dramatically! Yes, the same person as a reader and as a viewer, connect him/herself differently with the work. This is because; we approach the story through intellect while we read it. While the same work is adapted to screen the viewer in us begins to approaches it from the emotional stratum. Hence, chances are there, the same body of the work may grow different emotional connections with the same person.




On the other hand we might realize the fact that not all literary works can be adapted to cinema. There are some outstanding literary works from the doyens of literature, which cannot be visually translated. But translating it to the cinematic form might be possible, and that solely relays on the genius of the filmmaker who attempts it.

When director Ang Lee went on to make Life of Pi, an already revered work in the literary universe, many were baffled by the very idea. Many readers, including myself, had actually opined that the novel is ‘unfilmable’, given its complexity. Our thoughts in general, had a perception that the novel is too hard to be translated into visuals, while retaining the essence. Yet, while viewing it on screen, it wasn’t that disappointing, so to say.  The novel, for a good 100 pages, moving with a highly philosophical flavor, actually is devoted with very little screen time, in the cinematic version. The limitations of visually translating a written word, still holds. On the other hand, I can bet not all that is visually shown on screen in this film can’t be written to its fullest, on paper. I think none would deny it.  I find this irony get better expressed via this contemporary example, for the topic being discussed.


Life of Pi


One should also be reminded here, that, being a good reader doesn’t warrant one to be a good viewer.  A writer, with this genius might make his work multilayered. Despite the complexity, the readers always have to enter into the work only through the intellect. Unlike literature, cinema is an amalgamation of arts, where every single element of it claims different skill sets from an individual to connect oneself into. Hence it necessitates constant training and practice to hone oneself to be more receptive to the visual cues that the film’s body of work has to offer.

This short series is written with an intention to provide a bird-eye view to the readers, highlighting the fact that reading a book is not the same as reading a film.

Happy Reading! Happy Watching!



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