The Namesake: Mira Nair took Jhumpa Lahiri’s book about two generations of Gangulis in two parts of the world and turned it into a rich and colourful montage of layered human relationships. Power-packed performances by Irrfan Khan, Tabu and an against-type Kal Penn did the rest.
Slumdog Millionaire: In Vikas Swarup’s Q&A, director Danny Boyle found his reason to go wild and wacky in Mumbai. Packing in more masala than the spiciest of Bollywood movies, Boyle used Rahman’s kinetic score, Dev-Freida’s chemistry and Anil Kapoor’s OTT act to piece together this back-and-forth quizzical ride.
Schindler’s List: Steven Spielberg championed his own demons as he turned Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally — he’s in town for the Kolkata Literary Meet even as this is being written — into moving black-and-white images for Schindler’s List. Liam Neeson’s reformed Nazi Oskar Schindler’s saving 1,200 Jews from concentration camps is a deeply human document from the Holocaust years and an outstanding achievement in cinema.
Black Friday: Anurag Kashyap adapted S. Hussain Zaidi’s book on the Mumbai bomb blasts from a distance and that gave the film its assuredly non-judgemental voice. The circular nature of the chapter-split narrative eventually brought out the futility of the intense power play.
The Apu Trilogy: Satyajit Ray took two of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s books — Pather Panchali and Aparajito — and turned them into a painfully poignant portrait of an observer-turned-participant across three films. Strictly visual, the films can move one on their own and also string together an unchained melody of melancholy.
Apocalypse Now: Francis Ford Coppola turns Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart Of Darkness into an almost spiritual reflection on the Vietnam War. While Marlon Brando’s much-celebrated last-act cameo is the piece de resistance, the whole journey is emotionally enriching and an inimitable cinematic triumph.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The films are not ageing that well but Peter Jackson undoubtedly satisfied zillions of JRR Tolkien fans by adapting the previously-thought-to-be-unfilmable book into such a visually grand movie experience. More chronological on screen than on page, the three films celebrate technology as much as they celebrate literature.
Charulata: Rabindranath Tagore’s Nashtaneer was adapted by Satyajit Ray into this fascinating portrait of loneliness of a wife who suddenly discovers life once brother-in-law Amal storms into the house. It’s almost a template of how to take a story and make it better at every stage of the screen translation.
Dev D: There have been more than a dozen official (and hundreds of unofficial) adaptations of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Devdas but Abhay Deol’s idea of updating the self-destructive seed of rejected love into a world of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll was simply explosive. Writer-director Anurag Kashyap’s trippy treatment and Amit Trivedi’s psychedelic score made it irresistible.
The Godfather (I & II): Novelist Mario Puzo himself worked with director Francis Ford Coppola on the two screenplays to craft the two generations of Corleone power play. Conducting a fabulous cast and a virtuoso crew, Coppola went way beyond the book in terms of intent and impact.
Jurassic Park: Trust Steven Spielberg to pick up something and turn it into a spectacle. He’s been doing it for years, from Jaws to The Color Purple to Catch Me If You Can. In the sheer audacity of adapting Michael Crichton’s unfilmable novel and creating dinosaurs who were too real for comfort, Jurassic Park was the Life Of Pi of the 1990s.
Maqbool: William Shakespeare’s Macbeth found a new avatar in Mumbai’s underworld as Vishal Bhardwaj adapted the play character for character, vice for vice, sin for sin. The brilliant ensemble cast with a knockout act by Pankaj Kapur as Abbaji, ably supported by Irrfan Khan and Tabu as Lord and Lady, breathed magic in every scene.
The Silence of the Lambs: Thomas Harris’s follow-up to Red Dragon was turned into a taut psychological thriller by director Jonathan Demme going beyond the usual genre rules. Anthony Hopkin’s chilling
Dr Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster’s vulnerable Clarice Starling made the most incredible on-screen tag team.
No Country For Old Men: Even while staying true to Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 book, the Coen Brothers gave the screenplay their own delicious spin, adding a touch of chance to the bloody proceedings. Javier Bardem’s evil Anton Chigurh is the real deal, though, with a weapon as unique as his hairstyle.
The Shawshank Redemption: Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption was beautifully adapted by Frank Darabont into a film that has become more and more impactful with time. It has ceased to be about Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and his escape from prison and gone on to epitomise the very idea of freedom. And yes, take a bow Morgan Freeman.
Chokher Bali: Rituparno Ghosh threw caution to the wind and cast Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai as the lead in this luminous adaptation of the Rabindranath Tagore novel. And it all waltzed
perfectly — with the period drama oozing history and intensity — into one irresistible literary cocktail.
Trainspotting: Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh’s first book was turned into a trippy ride through poverty and drug addiction by Danny Boyle and helmed on screen by Ewan McGregor. The surreal visual set pieces still pack a punch in this one-of-a-kind movie experience.
The Shining: Stephen King might not have approved the adaptation but there’s no denying the chilling atmosphere Stanley Kubrick created in and around the Overlook Hotel as Jack Nicholson’s writer loses his mind. Carpets, elevators, kids, doors, mazes… they were never scarier.
Brokeback Mountain: Forbidden love found a whole new voice in this heartwarming adaptation by Ang Lee of a short story by Annie Proulx (published in her collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories). It is the power of the storytelling that one quaint love story in the hills could be transcreated into a portrait so timeless and universal.
Guide: RK Narayan’s 1958 novel was brilliantly adapted into a tale of love, loss and loyalty by Vijay Anand. Using his brother Dev Anand’s star status and Waheeda Rehman’s charm, Goldie pushed the cinematic envelope and created unforgettable movie moments, picturising songs or scenes.