Academic journal article Creative Forum

Bollywoodizing Literature Forging Cinema

Academic journal article Creative Forum

Bollywoodizing Literature Forging Cinema

Article excerpt

In asserting that cinema didn't just "come out of thin air", the Russian director, Sergi Eisenstein had more than the technological evolution of cinema in mind or for that matter the indelible influence that the performative arts such as vaudeville, mime, circus and commedia d'ell arte had on early cinema. This assertion, made by Eisenstein in the essay 'Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves', as the title suggests, refers to narrative art of story telling, hitherto the domain of literature--epic poetry, drama or prose. During this embryonic stage of cinematography the dependency on literature was so strong that Charles Chaplin in his autobiography recalls how phrases such as "This is Falstaffian" or "this is the modern Madame Bovary" provided sufficient instruction for actors. Even the word "shot"--as cinema syntax, was brought into being by the clap boys on the sets, when referred to the scene being shot/enacted (My Autobiography). However, with an accretion for complex action, it no longer appeared feasible to shoot films in the manner of stage plays, with tableaux like entrances and exits; cinematographers invented newer modes for depicting reality--continuity editing, parallel action, sharp intercuts and so forth. This was eventually to become the foundation for the art of narrative filmmaking. (1)

So strong was the influence that literature exerted over film, that in 1908 in France, the Societe Film d'Arte was established to produce films based entirely on classical plays and novels. While the films produced by the Societe did nothing to increase the dramatic potential of cinema, the jubilation in the camps nonetheless was primarily over the fact that audience had sat enthralled for over 15 minutes at a stretch. As the stalwarts of cinema--Edwin Stanley Porter, D.W Griffith and Mack Sennet embarked on a path of ruthless experimentation with the plasticity of this art, newer syntax was eventually developed that made cinema the most potent mode of aesthetic expression. At this point in time one saw a move towards complex cinematic renditions of literary texts and thus was born the genre of film adaptation.

In 'Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves', Eisenstein is at pains to prove how even advanced cinematic techniques such as the dissolve or the fade-out had clear-cut precedents in precinematic novels, especially those of Charles Dickens and Gustav Flaubert. Likewise, when D.W. Griffith working on the dramatic intensity of his films introduced radical methods of shot composition and rapid inter or cross cutting, the experimentation unfortunately didn't go down quite well with the management of the American Biograph. The conversation, one of the icons in early film history, is recorded thus: "How can you tell a story jumping about like that... the people wouldn't know what it's about?" Followed by Griffith's quick retort: "Well...dosen't Dickens write that way?" to be met with: "Yes, but that's Dickens; that's novel writing; that's different" and finally Griffith's clinching argument "Oh, not so much, these are picture stories, not so different."

Behind this seemingly innocent conclusion of the "not so different" rests the whole weight of adaptation history and complexity. We need to unpack its ramifications here. Unarguably, the link with literature conferred a great deal of respectability to cinema, which as a commercial venture also helped gloss over its image as escapist mass entertainment. At the same time, the recourse to popular literature indicated commercial anxieties regarding audience reception or what we today call the box office. As narrative systems, both cinema and literature rely on certain fundamental structural components, such as plot, setting, character, theme and style. While not reducing the arts to a common denominator, narrative brings out the commonality and diversity shared by both as representational systems.

With literature as the more established of the two arts, the anxiety of influence, to use Harold Blooms celebrated phrase, at least initially, lay entirely with cinema. …

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