Anushka Ravishankar's novel based on the critically acclaimed Nagesh Kukunoor film, Dhanak, releases today. It's the perfect children's book story, she says, for discussing the innate extreme logic kids exhibit
Q. How did the book come about?
A. We've (Duckbill Books) been talking for a while about turning some good children's movies into books. So, when a friend told us about the new film being made by Nagesh Kukunoor, my colleague called one of the producers. She was interested, and sent us a preview. It was a wonderful premise and an unusual story, so we felt it would work well as a book.
Q. Tell us about the experience of novelising a film. Was this your first?
A. It was my first, yes. In fact, we have been trying to find instances of movie novelisations in Indian children's books. We've arrived at the conclusion that this is the first time it's been done. The experience was unusual and in some ways, difficult. When you write your own story, you can skip off into whatever direction it takes you. Here, I had to not only be true to what was shown on the screen, I also felt I needed to stay as close to Nagesh's vision as possible, since this was meant to be a movie novelisation, and not just a novel loosely based on the film. And I had to do this without letting the book read like a screenplay, which was challenging and fun to do. But it's not easy, when you're used to writing your own stories where you can play god.
(From left) Chotu and Pari set off to look for Shah Rukh Khan who is shooting for a film in Rajasthan
Q. You have written children's works earlier. What about the plot attracted you?
A. I enjoyed the fact that it's such an unusual setting and I loved the premise, because it's so fantastic that it's believable. Children do have that quality of believing that anything is possible. And I don't even mean magic. I think it's more like an extreme logic. So, in this film for instance, Shah Rukh Khan is part of a campaign to donate eyes, and Shah Rukh Khan can do anything, so he must be able to give Chotu his eyesight. In that sense, the story captures the inner world of the child. There are not enough books written about children from non-urban, non-mainstream communities. So I'm happy that through this project, we were able to do a book set in a village in Rajasthan and tell the story of children who live there.
Q. Is there a difference between what people will see in the film and read in the book?
A. Not a lot. The differences are mostly those dictated by the medium. I've explained more than the film does, because the medium demands it. For example, the aunt gets her POV explained, because in the film, you see only her hostility, but not the reason for it. Since the visual is not there, words have to take their place. So an expression turns into internal monologue, the stunning landscape, which is a physical presence in the film, has to be described in words. There are a couple of other small changes, but as a movie novel, I felt it had to be as faithful to the movie as possible. And yet, I hope the experience of reading the book will be different from that of seeing the film.
What's the film about?
Dhanak tells the story of a blind boy, Chotu, and his sister, Pari. They have been orphaned and live with their uncle and aunt in a village in Rajasthan. Pari has promised Chotu that he will have his eyesight back by his ninth birthday. But she has no idea how. Then one day, she sees a poster with Shah Rukh rukh Khan on it, saying 'Donate Your Eyes. Change a Life.' She starts writing letters to him, asking him to give Chotu his eyesight. There's no reply. When she hears that Shah rukh is in Rajasthan, shooting for a film, Pari takes off with Chotu to find him. The story is about the relationship between the two children.
The film releases on June 17
A friend of mine had pitched the idea of a blind boy who lives with his sister in the village years ago for an advertising commercial for a courier brand. Years later I visualised the two children living in a village in Rajasthan. I called my friend and asked if I could develop the idea for a film. I didn't write Dhanak for children. It's not dumbed down. Anushka and I had long chats. A novelist's logic has to be sound. Filmmmakers get away with a lot because of the dynamic medium. It will be interesting to see how people react to a book based on a film. In the West, there are examples like James Bond where it has been tried.