Question 3: How does a film that has been adapted from a story/novel affect our understanding of the text through the shift of perspective? Illustrate.
Ans: The close relationship between literature and film has existed since the advent of cinema due to the strong visual characteristics of both media. D. W. Griffith wanted to film in the same way as Charles Dickens wrote novels. Similarly, Tolstoy wanted to write like a camera films (Paech, 1988, pp. 122–3). George Bluestone, in establishing the limits of both the novel and the film, argues that novelist and film director meet in the attempt “to make you see”, the former through the mind; the latter through the eye. For him, the root difference between the two media “lies between the percept of the visual image and the concept of the mental image” (1957, p. 137). He considers the end products of novel and film as representing different aesthetic genera, since each is autonomous and each is characterized by unique and specific properties (p. 139). Bluestone states that “a film is not thought; it is perceived” (p. 141). Therefore, film cannot have direct access to the power of discursive forms because it is a presentational medium (except for its use of dialogues). Whereas “the novel discourses, the film must picture” (p. 140). Bluestone had a very pessimistic view of the intersection between the two media. He concludes his chapter by stating that “what is peculiarly filmic and what is peculiarly novelistic cannot be converted without destroying an integral part of each.” (p. 150). Therefore, adaptation would imply destruction, instead of construction of new possibilities of reading and interpretation. Most of the arguments developed by Bluestone have turned out to be inconsistent with the way contemporary works treat their media. There is a blurring of the borderlines of the medium allotted for each art form nowadays, as films become literary and novels become more and more cinematic. The obsolete video cassette industry, superseded by the development of DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-ray, and computer downloading technology, have allowed us to have video libraries like book libraries at our disposal, either in electronic form or as hard copies. This fact has accounted for one of the basic differences in the mode of perceiving the two media. Bluestone writes: “because its mode of beholding allows stops and starts, thumbing back, skipping, flipping ahead, and so lets the reader set his own pace, a novel can afford diffuseness where the film must economize. Where the mode of beholding in the novel allows the reader to control his rate, the film viewer is bound by the relentless rate of a projector which he cannot control” (p. 142). When he wrote the book, in 1957, Bluestone could not have predicted that one day, in the so-called “developed” and “developing societies”, movies would be as accessible in homes as books (or maybe even more accessible than books), and that with the use of the mouse or remote control, viewers would be able to rewind, fast forward, stop, get stills and slow motion as many times as they liked, thus eliminating the difference he established between the modes of beholding. Some critics prefer to associate film with the visual arts by stressing the role of the visual image over the narrative, as Morris Beja has noted (1979, pp. 25–6).
However, the relationship between literature and film in their mutual visual, dialogical, and narrative aspects is remarkable. Besides narrating, literature creates mental images in the readers’ minds, a fact which contradicts these arguments. Moreover, literature has frequently been associated with the visual arts in studies of the history of both art forms. There have been innumerable comparative studies between literature and film, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. Morris Beja (1979) cites Tolstoy’s comments on the revolutionary influence cinema would have “in the life of writers” as early as 1908. He regards Vachael Lindsay’s book The Art of the Moving Picture (1915) as the “first important book of cinema criticism in the United States”, and written by a poet (Beja, 1979, p. 74). In 1926, before the advent of sound in movies, Virginia Woolf criticized the new medium as inaccessible to words in her essay “The Cinema”. She perceived the alliance of the two media as “disastrous” and “unnatural”, and she described cinema as a “parasite” which had fallen “upon its prey [literature] with immense rapacity” (p. 350). Woolf is one of the first critics to denounce the mesmerizing effect cinema produces. She condemns cinema for creating a reality “more real than reality”, an analogy similar to the motto used by the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner. She argues that the eye is unable to comprehend the new medium without the help of the brain, since the spectator is removed from his or her surrounding reality due to cinema’s. Audiovisual presentations create stronger impressions and better retention as images are known to get more effectively engraved in the brain. Films enable the viewers to understand the subtle nuances of human relationships. One may miss this out when one is only reading a play or novel. The use of the visual technique enables us to understand what has been stated and what has not been explicitly said by the writer.
In films, the role of the director is important because he is the one who is shaping
the novel into a film. He knows how much to present and how much to conceal: so
there is a shift in perspective. It is no longer the writer’s perspective – the viewer
sees the film as the director presents it (point of view of the director). Biopics
(biographies made into film) have always been favoured by directors all over the
world. The Hindi film, Bhagh Milkha Bhagh, on Milkha Singh who was called
“the flying Sikh”, is a case in point.
It is interesting to read Milkha Singh’s autobiography The Race of My Life to
understand Milkha Singh’s perspective. We shall begin by talking about what is
meant by autobiography. Autobiographies present a totally different perspective:
that of the writer who is writing his/her life. In autobiographies, the writer narrates
his/her own history, as s/he perceives it. This genre has been practiced from ancient times. The word “autobiography” was probably first used by Robert Southey in 1809 when he wrote about the works of a Portuguese poet, Francisco Vieura. In earlier times when a person wrote the story of his/her life then the word “self biography” was used (see Robert Folkenflik ed. The Culture of Autobiography: Construction of Self Representations). Roy Pascal in his book, Design and Truth in Autobiography writes that people write autobiographies because they are keen that people should read about their lives. Autobiographies, at times, are inspirational and such writings can encourage a person to overcome his/her difficulties and meet challenges bravely. Autobiographical writings enable the reader to understand the thought processes and behavioural patterns of the writers. Autobiographies can begin at any point of time. The writers need not present the events in a chronological form and may choose to focus on only those anecdotes and episodes which have played a momentous role in shaping their lives. They may begin to tell the story of their life from a particular moment and then go back to past incidents that have shaped the course of their journey. They may also focus on only a part of their life and the experiences therein. As the authors look back at their life’s history, they may choose to comment on the ideas that shaped their mindset and the people who have helped to mould their personality. Autobiographies are supposed to be truthful accounts of a person’s life but the truth may not be very clearly stated. Sometimes a writer writes his/her life story at a very young age. S/he may live on to a ripe old age, but does not publish a sequel, preferring to let the earlier work speak for them.
In an autobiography, the writer recalls past events from memory, reconstructs them in his/her mind and then presents them before the readers. Thus memory plays a great role in the writing of an autobiography. The Wordsworthian concept of
“emotions recollected in tranquility” may perhaps be said to hold valid for writers
who write their life stories.
In Milkha Singh’s autobiography The Race of My Life Milkha Singh tells us how
running and winning races made him earn the title the “flying Sikh”. When one
reads his autobiography, one realizes that Milkha has been quite candid and this
quality makes the autobiography an amazing read. It begins with a short prologue
in which the writer tells us about the experiences that are related to his passion and skill for running – “fleeing the massacre on that fearsome night when most of my family was slaughtered, racing trains for fun… leaving every one behind in my first race as an army jawan so that I could get an extra glass of milk”.
Milkha Singh’s autobiography follows a chronological order. It tells us about his
trials and tribulations, his angst and anguish as he led an almost solitary life after
the massacre of his parents and some members of his family. His autobiography
makes one realize that despite his varied problems, Milkha was determined to work and carve out a name for himself. The title of the biopic “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” refers to Milkha’s father entreating him to run away when the Muslim rioters attacked his village and family during the partition of India and Pakistan. Running enabled him to survive the slaughter subsequent to which he led the life of an impoverished refugee in India. Milkha fell into bad company and was sent to jail. However, he was keen to join the army and his brother Makhan helped him in this endeavour. After that there was no turning back for Milkha and the rest is history. The autobiography The Race of My Life and the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag together enable us to see and understand Milkha Singh from two different perspectives (one is the view point of the writer as he writes his life story; the other is the view point/ perspective of the director who presents before us in cinematic form, the life story of Milkha Singh). Visual impact is always lasting because of the impression it leaves in the mind. The film on Milkha Singh helps us to realise the problems faced by Milkha right from the time of partition when he ran to save his life. The director and the writer’s perspective in different. The thought process involved in writing about the feelings and reactions of the characters are expressed easily with the help of words. A visual medium can give a photographic representation of the thought process but it may not be adequate.