As laid out in the introduction to All Time Favorite Books and Movies and Their Epic Journey, Patil has picked some of his favorite stories of all time from literature and cinema and presented rich behind-the-scenes trivia. To these details are added opinions which reiterate his imagination of their ‘epic’-ness.
The first section has a set of literary works with tales of their evolution into films, often via theatre, Othello, Anna Karenina, Tess, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, among others. For example, he brings to light an incident early in the life of Dosteovsky—of his narrow escape from the gallows—that few would have known.
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For the size of the book, the selection seems quite eclectic in the geographical spread of its objects of study. Giving a summary of each literary or cinematic work that are clear and concise narrations especially for those who haven’t read the original texts, Patil follows with facts about the creation of the piece. The facts read more as trivia than history—they are a set of events leading up to the way the work turned out, and often sporadic, almost in a coffee-table manner of presenting. This seems all the more so because of the way he expresses how he finds each work.
Patil’s appreciative assessment and perspective can be thought of this way for the design of the book is quite ingenious. It has animated visuals of film reels within frames the shape of letters of the alphabet. At first glance you may even remember tall straight concrete buildings with lights from windows—if seen through the alphabet frames. Similar to the height (and often status) of such imagined buildings, is the language of the author for the things he appreciates— full of superlatives and romantic descriptions of ‘greatness’ both of the makers and the products; hyperbolic outpourings of perceptions of grandeur that on the one hand connote a positive passion in the arts and other human preoccupations, but on the other hand, overlook sociological contexts of narratives. To cite one example, page-163: ‘There have been many great stalwarts who have graced the Hall of Fame of literature, and suffused it with their fragrance’.
Not that Patil denies being starry-eyed. But one may find the grand narratives overwhelming if one is looking for more critical insight or for complexities in situations that shaped the works.
Let us take the adaptations for example. With the assumption of something being better or worse because of personal affect, memories, and impressions, often one would suspect he’s comparing apples with oranges since cinematic or literary conventions are left out of the discussion.
In one instance, the last paragraph of chapter 2 states, ‘neither the eyes of the camera nor the brightest flashlights have the ability to penetrate the dark depths of the human mind that have been accessed by great writers like Dostoyevsky.’ But is it that simple to translate imaginary pictures spun by words in the reader’s mind to the imaginative comprehension that cinematic images throw up in the viewer’s mind? The last line of chapter 4: ‘Watching Polanski’s Tess reproduces for us the same pleasure as re-reading the novel.’ But would all of ‘us’ say the same thing? And then there is the last line of the book (sorry for the spoiler for those who do not want to know it just yet): ‘These great cinematic talents create an archive that an army of 500 historians cannot, and pay their homage to the intrepid revolutionaries.’ But all historians do not narrate the same events— in the same order, or the same politics!
Perhaps, if popular literature on themes like this book explores were gradually more and more mindful of the intricacies delved into above, it might egg on a richer public discourse on phenomena like screen cultures or adaptations.
Ipsita Sengupta has an MA in Film Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi. She believes in the strong power of cinema to facilitate dialogue on the individual and society.