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From the Visual to the Word

Paromita Chakravarti

By Bapsi Sidhwa
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2006, pp. 201, Rs. 325.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Bapsi Sidhwa’s Water is an unusual work which translates Deepa Mehta’s film “Water” into a novel. It renders an audio-visual experience into words, significantly reversing the commoner trend of turning novels into films and problematizing the usually assumed authority and “originality” of the literary text over the “adapted” cinematic version. Here the book adapts the film. As such, Mehta, the screenplay and dialogue writer remains a crucial contributor to the project. This is a new phase in the collaborative work that Mehta and Sidhwa started with Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man being turned into Mehta’s film, “Earth”.   Water’s status as a commissioned, promotional enterprise for the film further complicates our reading of the novel. For Sidhwa, it was difficult, as she admits in her Acknowledgements, to churn out a novel in three months: “I had never written within the confines of a structured story before, or the constraint of time.” Some of this strain shows. Besides, what is the function of the novel? Is it meant to memorialize the film experience in viewers’ minds as the written versions of plays did in Shakespeare’s England or books of song lyrics did in early twentieth century India when cassettes were not easily available? But in this day of easily accessible DVDs this seems redundant. Perhaps the novel is meant to reinforce or supplement the film in some way or even to provide explanations and fill out the narrative for an audience who might not be familiar with the context and the setting. At any rate Sidhwa’s stature as a novelist will certainly lend its weight to the film. In countries like India, where the film has not been released, in deference to the Hindu right wing groups which had stopped the shooting of “Water” five years ago, the novel will stand in for the film.   However, reading the novel as someone who has not seen the film, one is still struck by its derivative feel. It is full of scenes which are obviously cinematic and appear to be transcribed directly from the film. But it is not so much a case of using Mehta’s film as being generically “filmi”. For instance, Narayan, the Gandhian idealist hero appears out of nowhere, heroically recovers the heroine’s runaway pet and wins its mistress’ eternal love and gratitude. Narayan’s home with its gramophone and French windows, the ...

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