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Taking Books to Screens: The ’Book Adaptation’ Trend on the Web.


A sneak-peek into the ’Book Adaptation’ Trend on the Web

There is an ongoing trend in the digital space: Taking books to screens. Books have been a resource for adaptations of all kinds – movies, television shows, and even video games. Now, these captivating collections find themselves being translated into screenplays for the web.

While book adaptations are controversial among literature fans, with its pros and cons still debated upon, it has nevertheless emerged as a trend in India and beyond.

The Appeal of Book Adaptations

The Web Entertainment Industry is moving at a fast pace. With ‘binge-watching’ now a common phenomenon, there is a race amongst producers and streaming platforms to come up with fresh, eye-catching and entertaining content.

With this industry resembling the fast-food sector in many ways, with new variations and experimentations occurring quite often, along with a demand for quick access, quality, and low-to-moderate pricing (not to mention, unhealthy binging at times), there is a dearth of good stories on the web. In such a scarcity of quality content, books have become an absolute goldmine for producers and creators on the web and beyond. And while there is the risk of offending fans of the written word with an unsatisfactory adaptation, there is also enough proof that careful adaptations can prove to be profitable and successful. Case in point: Netflix’s acclaimed Indian original, Sacred Games, based on Vikram Chandra’s eponymous novel.

Netflix’s other Indian book-to-series adaptations include Leila (based on Prayaag Akbar’s novel), Selection Day (based on Aravind Adiga’s novel), and the upcoming series, Bard of Blood, based on Bilal Siddiqui’s book. Even outside India, the success of book adaptations can be evidently seen, with names like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, The Haunting of Hill House, Orange is the New Black, etc. as well as HBO’s Game of Thrones, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Amazon Prime’s The Man in the High Castle, among others, coming to mind.

Back at home, Indian OTT platforms like ZEE5 have also started following the book adaptation strategy. ZEE5’s The Final Call finds its origins in Priya Kumar’s ‘I Will Go With You’, Parchhayee derives from Ruskin Bond’s short stories and Skyfire from Aroon Raman’s eponymous novel. Other novels such as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Novoneel Chakraborty’s Marry Me Stranger, Manu Joseph’s Serious Men, and Anmol Rana’s Those Seven Days, among several others, are also being adapted for different streaming platforms.

Another factor that makes book-to-series adaptations so appealing is that it provides a captivating storyline that is rooted within the local culture, rather than some idealized or stereotypical view. Good books tend to be well-researched about places and themes they cover, proving to be a rich resource for an adaptation. There is a plethora of such material within India, just waiting and wanting to be explored.

Moreover, when it comes to adaptations, there already exists a precedent for the story, and the book’s fans are the earliest ones attracted to such happenings. There is already a pre-sold audience.

The web series format also seems to be suitable for adaptations. An average novel ranging from 200 to 500 pages has to be mercilessly compressed, with a lot of vital foliage trimmed away, to create a 2 to 3-hour long film. In contrast, web series offers flexibility wherein the story can branch out over multiple episodes and seasons, allowing creative liberty to cover its various subplots, layers, and complexities. It is impossible to imagine a 1000-page mammoth such as Sacred Games beaten down into a single film, or even a trilogy. However, the flexibility of web series allowed it to unfold over a satisfactory 2 seasons consisting of 8 episodes each.

A Risky Challenge

Adapting a wonderful book into a film or a web series does not guarantee success. Despite the prevalent shift towards books in the quest for a worthy story, the results continue to be hit-and-miss when it comes to adaptations. ZEE5’s Skyfire is accused of turning a page-turner into a disappointing watch, with its defects overshadowing the better segments.

There are some cases where adaptations ventures far too much from the source and destroy the very soul of the story (Like the Percy Jackson films, which were lambasted by the book series’ author Rick Riordan himself).

Whenever there are talks of adaptation, there are mixed reactions from the book fans: Either excitement to watch the words come alive; or aversion.

Books allow imagination to flourish, where words bring worlds to life, and stories are formed in the reader’s heads, unique to everyone. It’s a marvelous experience. According to many, an adaptation steals this right from the reader by pushing its own version of the text, which is then subconsciously imprinted in the minds and destroys this privilege and process of creative imagination that occurs when reading.

While readers may form a willing audience, they also become the harshest of critics, often accusing adaptations of unfaithfulness to the original work, for both minor and major diversions, as well as missing characters, sub-plots, and scenes.

The web series format, however, does provide a solution to these accusations of infidelity. With a spread-out script, the story can be explored in-depth and in detail, compared to a film that could’ve turned out as rushed, incomplete, and inadequate.

There is a lot of work and effort that goes into transforming a book into a screenplay. The writing style for both mediums is different. Books often delve into character’s thought processes, internal monologue, and so much more that is extremely difficult to translate into a visual. On the other hand, the environment, the costumes, and the setting could find enhancement on screen. It boils down to effort and creativity.

Good adaptations are not just mere carbon-copies of books, they are a unique story-telling format of their own, where they intentionally expand on crucial moments and themes in the storyline, add a dramatic feel, create a splendid and brilliant visual treat, take creative decisions with its presentation, and add more value to the whole experience, while standing on the pillars of the original story with a strong script.

The Way Ahead

The thirst for fresh content has pushed producers and creators into the exquisite magic-filled pages that have been left unattended on the shelves for a long time. And this thirst has also given the writers a spotlight that they were once largely devoid of.

Web Entertainment is on a march to literature, seeking works of wonder that have enthralled many, picking out potions that could fill screens with magic, and despite setbacks, the march will continue and more treasures will be unearthed for all to see.

Also Read: Women’s Day Special: Celebrating the Women of the Indian Web


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