Writing in reel language

We found ourselves at the launch of debutante novelist Komal Mehta’s Nick of Time a couple of months ago (exact date of event?). The feisty 29 year-old author, who works in a film marketing agency, seemed like she had everything going forher.

She had snagged one of the biggest publishers, she had drawn in quite an audience and the price of the book was just right to make even a college kid pick it up without hesitation. More importantly, she had drawn in considerable media attention, with newspaper photographers verbally brawling with news channels’ cameramen to get event pictures, as is often the scene.

Author Komal Mehta’s Nick of Time is going to be made into a movie. Pic/Satyajit Desai

The thought on our mind, however, was: would the press have showered her with this kind of attention had she not been standing next to a starlet, a film director and a seasoned film and theatre actor, who were on the panel of guests recommending the book? Who were they actually photographing then – the author, or the starlet standing and smiling pretty next to the author?

Going beyond, with a book trailer using sound and video to promote the book, a cover that looks more like a film poster rather than a conventional book cover, and with director Ken Ghosh talking about how the book would make for a great film, made us wonder if authors are consciously penning a book with the hope and dream of it being converted into a big-budget film some day.

Author Abhisar Sharma (second from left) with journalist S Hussain Zaidi, Gul Panag, Manoj Bajpai and Piyush Jha at the launch of his book The Edge of the Machete

Maybe as the guy who has become a posterboy of commercial Indian fiction and a man raising militant opinions about his contribution to the literary world, Chetan Bhagat did more than tell the masses that probably anyone with a half-decent story can write. With the blockbuster success of a movie inspired by his book, are authors hoping for their books to transcend the medium and become a cinematic reality too? More importantly, does the process of writing a book involve a conscious effort to make it more visual and open to having it easily translated on screen? Or is that just us at our cynical best?

‘The book is my baby’
“If I have a story to say and I write a film script or a screenplay around it, the movie will unfortunately be considered as the director’s work,” says Abhisar Sharma, a television journalist who recently came out with his second novel — The Edge of the Machete — with a launch event at a bookstore that saw those from the film world (actors Gul Panag and Manoj Bajpai, and director-author Piyush Jha), a riveting book trailer and talk of the book being hopefully made into a film. “But when you write a book, you know that if it is ever converted into a movie, it will still be considered as your baby. That said, I don’t have the comfort of being a Bhagat or a Tripathi (Amish) who can get people to read their book even if they do nothing. I am not a brand, and hence I need to go beyond.”

Reader and penguin quote 
Maybe this going beyond becomes more important in a market that has an increasing number of authors but a diminishing number of readers. Maybe this going beyond becomes more important in a market that has an increasing number of authors but a diminishing number of readers.

Bollywood’s new formula
“Bollywood is increasingly looking at books as a possible source of content to break away from the formula,” says Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO of publishing house Westland. But does this work the other way round and make the authors harbour cinematic intentions? “Authors should write because they have something to say,” replies Mehta. “Everything that happens beyond that is extra gratification. If you consciously write because you think your book will be picked up by a director, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment.” Mehta, however, got lucky; the film rights to her book have already been sold (when did this happen?).

For Sivaraman Balakrishnan, senior marketing manager of bookstore chain Crossword, using book covers that resemble posters and having film faces at promotional events are just marketing tactics by relatively newer authors to gain visibility. “Still, the primary objective of writers is to write, whereas gaining an entry into Bollywood is secondary. The volume sales of Indian fiction are growing at 12 per cent to 14 per cent annually, and the age of debutant authors has come down to the mid-20s rather than the early-30s. With so many books being released every week, these are tactics to get more publicity and connect with a young, visually-motivated audience.”

With visual mediums setting a cornerstone for almost all sorts of communication and passion in our lives today, maybe we will see more and more book trailers and celebrities endorsing books. “And what’s so wrong with that?” asks filmmaker Piyush Jha who recently released his three-part crime fiction novel, Mumbaistan. “The idea that a certain book seems written for Bollywood is being spread by those who aspire to win the Booker prize and padlock the language with flowery turn of phrases.

This is just a byproduct of the boom in commercial fiction. Let’s not get cowed down by the clones of Arundhati Roy who feel they are writing something exotic, and those writing popular fiction are writing because their aspirations include a big break in Bollywood. Why would you step on a pseudo-literary pedestal and look down upon those who write to capture the imagination of the masses, medium no bars?” 

The rise of the book trailer
Book lovers might be surprised by the number of authors who use the audio-visual spectacle during their book launches. Film trailers — replete with actors performing scenes from the book, video footage of the author narrating a portion of their writing, recommendations by known faces and a voice-over quite like the one we hear in a movie trailer — are used to promote their books. Is ‘showing’ important to get people reading? “A visual medium can hold more power than speaking or writing about a book,” answers Vishwesh Menon, creative director of BoT Videos, a venture that produces online videos. “There is so much content out there right now, and add to that the fact that our attention spans are only getting shorter. Whether you are a literary person, someone who reads for fun or a film buff, you need to be selective about what you want to read and watch because it’s not possible to consume everything out there. That is where a trailer comes in. In a minute or two, it has the potential of grabbing attention and allowing more information to be retained.”

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