The films and fictions of ruth Jhabvala

|
  • 1

The films and fictions of ruth Jhabvala

Sunday, 17 February 2019 | Kalyanee Rajan

The films and fictions of ruth Jhabvala

Fiction to Film

Author - Vivek Sachdeva

Publisher - Orient Blackswan,

Rs 795

Vivek SachdevaRs s book Fiction to Film will be of great use to both research scholars of film and literary studies as well as enthusiasts and connoisseurs of adapted classics, writes KALYANEE RAJAN

The print and the visual multimedia as distinct disciplines have traditionally been unwilling partners, in other words, they make strange bedfellows. Both stake claims as the carriers of the absolute truth in its untarnished, complete glory, harbouring a remarkable degree of suspicion for each other. In terms of literature, fiction as a literary text and fiction depicted on screen as cinema, are seldom understood to be quite the same thing: While the written word would claim an enormity which cannot possibly be depicted on screen, verbatim, unless one were to take great liberties with the run-time. Similarly, the on-screen version would plead for a treat for all senses, a more wholesome, multi-layered experience over the unidimensional written word. It is easy to spot two literature and film enthusiasts respectively, bitterly arguing over say, the Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings series. Cinematic adaptations are mere starting points of animated discussions and discourse in proper, winding through the respective strengths of literature and cinema. These are some of the issues that academic, critic and translator Vivek Sachdeva deftly handles in his Fiction to Film: Ruth Prawer JhabvalaRs s The Householder and Heat and Dust.

In his detailed introduction, Sachdeva lays a definitive background for building a case for fiction and film as distinctive texts: He defines the aim of his project as one to study adaptations of novels into films and to note the transformations a narrative undergoes in cinematic form. Talking at length about adaptation, its growth and famous cinematic adaptations in both the Western and the Indian corpus, Sachdeva goes on to discuss “Film as Art”. He makes a significant observation in terms of a distinctive feature of canonical literature like that of Shakespeare which had Rs something for everyoneRs  — philosophy, wit, melodrama, rhetoric and also spectacle. Cinema which may have its origin in entertainment has over the years through the contribution of filmmakers par excellence, grown into an evolved art form because of the Rs timeless works of art in portraying human life in all its bewildering complexity and nuance with rare insight and sensitivityRs  notes Sachdeva. Drawing upon several crucial interventions by the likes of Raymond Williams, Adorno, Arnheim and EisensteinRs s theory of montage, Sachdeva explicates the relation between films and reality: While literary images reach the readers through Rs conceptual perceptionRs , cinematic images reach directly through perception. Under the interestingly titled section “Pride (in literature) and Prejudice (against adaptation)”, Sachdeva cites several directorial exemplars while inferring that “creative filmmakers have used filmRs s mode of communication so innovatively and effectively that what a novel takes pages to describe, a filmmaker has said more in a short scene or two”. The nature and scope of adaptation is also discussed in depth, the respective artistic conventions of a novel and a film are analysed. Sachdeva also dwells upon the connotations associated with criticism of cinematic adaptations, which are usually pejorative and highly polarising viz Rs deformationRs , Rs bastardisationRs  to name a few, and the whole debate around fidelity criticism, with the label Rs infidelityRs  drawing from Victorian prudishness and ethical perfidy in particular. He makes a case against the prejudice of parasitism of cinema as an art form which has led to a supposition that films in some way drain or damage the narrative text, be restating how adaptation is “fundamentally a creative process”. A dedicated section on “Challenges of Adaptation” looks at two primary vertices: That of the origin of the two respective art forms films and novels, and their respective employment of linguistic tools. Through an exhaustive survey of theories, Sachdeva finds Klein and ParkerRs s model of seeing “adaptation as an interpretation of the original text” stronger in terms of essentially veering away from the fidelity aspect. He proposes looking at the relation between the original and the new text through the lenses of “inter-textuality, translation and inter-mediality”, looking at the adaptation as a derivation that is not derivative. The final section titled “Narration in Cinema” is particularly illuminating as it dwells upon the “complex system of relations” to be perceived by the viewer, including the framing of shots, arrangement of material on the basis of space and time, the point of view and narration through modes of long shots, close ups, the treatment of time and so on. Sachdeva seeks to explicate all his observations through a close analysis of celebrated novelist Ruth Prawer JhabvalaRs s novels The Householder and Heat and Dust which the author herself helped to depict on screen by donning the hat of a screenplay writer, for the films produced by Ismail Merchant and directed by James Ivory.

In the succeeding four chapters, Sachdeva presents a comprehensive study and scrutiny of the phenomenal journey of fiction transforming into films. In the first chapter, he methodically deals with the technicalities of story, time (analepsis and prolepsis), focalisation, levels of narration, narrator and kinds of narrators with their respective functions, concluding with characters and characterisation, and space, all written in crisp, jargon-free style of explanation. The next chapter looks at Jhabvala the individual and the writer, her brief biography, also including brief synopses as well as insightful thematic discussion of her primary works such as To Whom She Will, The Nature of Passion, Esmond in India. The sub-section titled “The Screenwriter” engages with short overviews of the several films Jhabvala wrote during her fruitful association with Merchant Ivory Productions. The third and the fourth chapters juxtapose the novels and their respective cinematic adaptations, in the manner of an expert, microscopic scrutiny. The conclusion ties up the entire analysis towards proposing a new take on narrative discourse in fiction and film, especially in the Indian context. The exhaustive annexures on the two films and the detailed bibliography testify to the range of research and referencing that has gone into making of this pioneering volume.

The merit of Vivek SachdevaRs s Fiction to Film lies in its clinical handling of a subject so mired in contrary points of view, and the insights he draws can be effectively applied to the study of other cinematic adaptations, translations and theatre in general. It must be mentioned that in these times, cinematic adaptations in Bollywood have caught popular imagination with creative adaptations of Shakespeare for instance, by the likes of veteran directors such as Vishal Bhardwaj (Maqbool, Omkara, Haider), and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Goliyon ki Raas Leela Raam Leela) among others as cases in point.

The reviewer teaches English Literature at a Delhi University college