Telling stories through the silver screen

A film historian as steeped in the story of this craft as S Theodore Baskaran takes the time to present the print-to-screen journey of many novels.

Published: 16th August 2021 12:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th August 2021 12:18 AM   |  A+A-

Film historian S Theodore Baskaran (L) and a still from Asuran

Film historian S Theodore Baskaran (L) and a still from Asuran. (Photo| EPS)

By Express News Service

CHENNAI:  Some of the best works of world cinema fall under this category. So much so that the making of The English Patient prompted The Academy Awards to introduce a new category to acknowledge such fine work. Closer to home, some of our celebrated storytellers like Satyajit Ray and Adoor Gopalakrishnan worked exclusively (almost) within this subgenre.

Tamil cinema isn't without a rich repository of such movies either. But, unless a film historian as steeped in the story of this craft as S Theodore Baskaran takes the time to present the print-to-screen journey of many novels, short stories and plays that have made it to filmdom, you do not realise just how rich this history is.

That's why DakshinaChitra, as part of the series of talks organised for Madras Day, arranged for this ardent movie buff to share his insights on Saturday. Theodore began his lecture by first laying out the key differences between consuming the story by page and on screen.

While the former is a language-determined medium that allows you to imagine the world it presents through words, the latter is a highly visual medium that presents someone else’s imagination of a fictional world and its people. This allowed stories written in one part of the world to reach the people of another, without language getting in the way, he said.

The same credit goes for silent films too. "The first novel in Tamizh was published in 1876. This in itself was a new literary format. Then, the first Tamizh film to be released was the silent film Keechaka Vadham. I call this a Tamizh movie because the title card was in Tamizh. While this period was ending in the early 1930s, the then popular writer Kothainayaki's book Anaadhaipenn was made into a movie in 1931," he detailed.

This tradition was preserved through some excellent works over the years - be it Thillana Mohanambal that was adapted from Kothamangalam Subbu's novel or Ki Raa's Kidai that became Oruththi; Poomani's Vekkai that got a new avatar in Asuran or Nasir that drew life from Dilip Kumar's Oru Gumasthavin Kathai. 

Besides offering an illustrious list of films that made it to screen, Theodore also provided the history that occured in the process. How Karunanidhi’s play Parasakthi did so well that it was released as a book, which was in turn made into the iconic movie that remains a cult classic still.

Or how the narrative in the 1956 movie Rangoon Radha was changed to better fit the sentiments of the masses; while CN Annadurai's story had the storyline of a woman bearing a priest's child, the movie only showed that she was accused of having an affair with the priest, he said. 

Pointing out that this osmosis between literature and cinema has grown immensely in the past decade, he noted that even short stories were being made into good movies (Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai, for example). Sharing his thoughts on the triumphs and pitfalls of this endeavour, he concluded his talk with the request that audiences not compare the two mediums against each other.

"Cinema is a separate medium with different norms than literature. There’s nothing to compare here. Each is made with its own principles. You must judge a movie only based on how well it’s used its own devices to tell the story," he suggested.


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