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Mohsin doesn’t write books in movie forms

 | December 2, 2012

The advantage of being minimally involved is that an author gives the helmer the right to create his own version of the book.

FEATURE

Man Booker Prize nominated Mohsin Hamid does not weave his yarns around heroes. But fallen guys or those whom we would call anti-heroes.  Strange that Hamid should focus on the dark and the negative.

For he had all the trappings of a good life. Educated at Princeton and Harvard, he was born in Pakistan, a nation where most people cannot even dream of such universities, let alone study in them.

Hamid’s protagonists in the two books he has published till now, Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, are guys who slip into the unenviable side of life.

While Moth smoke follows  a former banker in post-nuclear Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and is damned, heroin addiction completing his destruction, The Reluctant Fundamentalist talks about a rising star, a brilliant Princeton graduate  with a plum job in New York who gets checkmated by 9/11.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is now a motion picture, helmed by Mira Nair and which opened the ongoing Doha Tribeca Film Festival, and earlier Venice. Moth Smoke which was made into a telefilm in Pakistan some years ago is now set for something bigger. India’s Rahul Bose has adapted it to screen, and the shoot will begin early next year.

Meeting Hamid during the recent Doha Tribeca Film Festival one of the first questions that crossed my mind was the relationship the author has had with Nair and Bose. Some of the authors I have known have been displeased and even angry with helmers who have transformed their words into visuals.

One of the best examples I can think of is Paul Zacharia whose novella was made into a movie, Vidheyan or Servile by Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Zacharia was never really happy with what he saw on the screen, although Adoor’s earlier tryst with Basheer’s literary work, Mathilukal (Walls), was appreciated.

Or so I was given to understand, for by the time I got around writing a biography of Gopalakrishnan, Basheer was dead.

Hamid’s relationship with Nair appears to be happy, with the man himself co-writing the screenplay for The Reluctant Fundamentalist. And as the writer avers the secret to a good relationship with the filmmaker is “either you are heavily involved, as was the case with Nair’s work, or very minimally involved, as it is probably going to be with Bose.

If you are somewhat involved then there is a greater chance for frustration and conflict”, Hamid smiles.

In the beginning, he had hoped to keep his involvement in Nair’s movie to a minimum, but ended up being hands on, primarily because it was hard to find a good scriptwriter (ah that great scourge in India).

But in Bose’s case, there is already a script written by him, and Hamid’s contribution will be quite minimal. “This is a good thing, for a director has his own vision of what he wants his work to be”.

Good time

Both kinds of participation come with pluses and minuses. When an author is an integral part of the filmmaking process, he has a greater opportunity to shape the celluloid work the way he wants to.

“The pitfall here is if the writer-director relationship is not good, then it can be very exasperating. Luckily with Mira, this was not the case, and we had a good time”.

The advantage of being minimally involved is that an author gives the helmer the right to create his own version of the book. And this may or may not be a good thing.

Yet, “I do believe that the print and the visual medium are two very different forms, and as long as a movie created out my book does not offed me, and as long as it is politically not very different, I am fine with it. To me a director making a film out of my book is like a reader, and like any reader, the helmer has the privilege to interpret my work the way he wants to.”

It would be as meaningless to take offence with such an interpretation as it would be to get angry with a sculptor who would sculpt a model after listening to a song! The lyricist could tear his hair up and say but that is not what my song is all about.

Admittedly, Hamid has all the right ideas about where an author should draw his line when it comes to getting his book on film, but I am tempted to get a little deeper into this. When he was writing The Reluctant Fundamentalist did it occur to him that this novel too could be filmed?

“Maybe vaguely yes. But I try to write novels to do what novels can. I do not write novels that are movies in book forms. My novels create ambiguity in a reader’s mind. They invite a reader to be a character. This is inherently a very difficult thing to film. This is also going to be the case with Rahul’s movie”.

In which case, what is that attracts helmers to go to Hamid. He believes in story-telling, and is convinced that he has to earn a reader’s time by engaging him or her. And as the late Ismail Merchant once told me, a movie must above everything else tell a good story, and I would presume that both Nair and Bose must have been drawn to Hamid’s fiction only because it is gripping.

Hamid’s third fiction is ready to hit the stands. Titled How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, it is not one of those ‘do it’ works, but another novel.

The publicity lines run like this: “It is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hope it depicts.

And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change”. Anyone with a megaphone to take this on?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.


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