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Reversing Cinematic Translation

Radha Dayal

Translated by Dinesh Raheja  and Jitendra Kothari
OM Books International, Noida / Vinod Chopra Films, 2014, pp. 215, Rs. 595.00


More than fifty years after its initial release Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool (Paper Flowers, 1959) remains one of Bombay cinema’s most enigmatic films. The film’s historical graph moving from initial box-office failure to subsequent cult status, its tragic narrative overlays with the director’s own life, its haunting visual imagery and its songs have become an unforgettable part of cinematic lore and continue to define the popular memory of the film in India.The film’s narrative focuses on the life of film director Suresh Sinha (played by Guru Dutt himself) and his tryst with fame, a journey that posits the figure of the uncompromising artist against commercial/popular demands of the film industry and societal conventions that ultimately result in a tragic, unfulfilled end.The book Kaagaz ke Phool: The Original Screenplay attempts to recreate the magic and cinematic enigma of the film by adopting,primarily, a literary lens that focuses on the film’s screenplay. In bringing this black-and-white classic to contemporary audiences the authors undertake several translations, primarily of speech from the Hindustani of the original screenplay into English, but for the purposes of this review I also consider the shift from the audio-visual-spatial form of celluloid to print as a form of translation that relies on similar practices as literary translation, a pointI shall discuss in more detail later. In recent years there has been a spurt of publishing activity around screenplays of Bombay films focusing largely, although not exclusively, on classics of the fifties. Prior to Kaagaz ke Phool, the journalists-cinephile team of Raheja and Kothari, have translated the screenplays of Chaudhvin ka Chand (Full Moon, M. Sadiq, 1961) and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (The Master, the Wife and the Slave, Abrar Alvi, 1962), both made under the Guru Dutt banner. Other authors and publishers have undertaken similar work, heralding a new genre1 in film journalism in India that brings to the forefront, perhaps for the first time, a combination of archival research, academic rigour, and the cinephile’s intuitive love for the material.The genre of screenplay publications seems to be a smart marketing move that complements the nostalgic desire to return to older films—particularly those that represent the ‘classical’ period of Bombay cinema, the black-and-white 1950s—along with contemporary aspirations like a rising interest in filmmaking, screenwriting, cinematography, and editing, with the published screenplay representing both a blueprint of success and ...

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