The nitty-gritty of adaptation 

Debarati Palit Singh
Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Shatrujeet Nath, Anand Sivakumaran and Sidharth Jain spoke about screen adaptation of books and how the writer’s loyalty should be with fans of the medium it’s adapted for

Over the years, we have seen some great and not-so-great adaptations of books on big and small screen. But books being adapted into web series is a slightly new phenomenon and according to three industry experts — Shatrujeet Nath, Anand Sivakumaran and Sidharth Jain, there are several book adaptations that the audiences will get to see on the digital platforms in the next few years.

The three were speaking during a session titled Trick or Trade - Books to Web Series at Pune International Literary Festival 2019 last Saturday. The one hour session was moderated by writer-director Jyoti Kapur Das. 

When asked how book adaptations have developed over the years, Jain, founder of Story Ink, a story company where they sell rights of books by Indian authors to producers said, “It’s been 18 months that we are working and it’s been pretty exciting. I think a big change in perception has happened and overnight producers, who did not read books, have started asking me, ‘Do you have any good book?’ It’s a culture shock for me because I get calls everyday from all kinds of producers and screenplay writers. Of course, it’s not necessary that every book that gets sold will turn into a project.”

In the industry, development of stories was never given due importance, both commercially and creatively, Jain said. “This trend has opened a large amount of opportunities for genuine writers and this will lead to better and engaging stories,” he hoped.

While writing a book, does the fact that the story might get adapted for screen in the future, play on their mind, they were asked. Sivakumaran said, “For me, not really. Since I wrote my first book after two decades of being a screenwriter, in a way it was in the same format. The editor of the book read it and said, ‘There is no description of the hero and heroine’ and I was like, ‘That will be done by the director when he will do the casting’. For pure authors, screen is a completely different medium. But there is no denying that the detailing is much more.”

Nath, a screenwriter and author added, “You really can’t sustain a lifestyle by only selling books. For me and many authors, the dream is that somebody would buy its rights because that’s where you make maximum amount of money. The writing has changed — it’s become a lot more visual which could be because we consume a lot of visual storytelling.” 

Jain shared that most writers can get anything between Rs 20 to 35 lakh for their books and there are very few who can fetch more than a crore through adaptation. “I usually get a deal based on the scale of the project,” he added. 

When selling your book rights and parting with your material, how much is the temptation to have some kind of control over it? Nath replied, “I am not adapting my book, if I get into that, I will be hampering a process. I do not want author of some book I am adapting to come and tell me, ‘What needs to be done’ and I must respect the same thing for other writers. Having said that, it’s also difficult because you want creative control.”

According to Jain, “Collaboration is the key now. It’s really important to build the right team, which continues till the shooting. If you can respect and collaborate, the product becomes much better.” 

But is it ethical to dilute material which has already had a fan base? “As a script writer, your first loyalty is to the audience who is watching the film/show/series and not to the book audience. Your work has to get the audience hooked so that they watch those 10 episodes. You cannot think about the fans of the books because you don’t know if they will come to watch the film/series or not. Ultimately, you are getting paid by the producer,” said Sivakumaran. “Also the difference in the sample size is quite huge. The number of people reading books is much less compared to those watching the film/series,” added Jain. 

And what are the most popular genres to get adapted? Jain said that 90 per cent of enquiries come for episodic content. “For that, you need plots that have thriller or mystery elements, the kind of stories that are most suited for that format. Binge watching has become the key factor,” he said. 

Nath said that most producers are looking for books which could be turned into numerous seasons.  

They pointed out that the focus on the digital platform too is on the actor who will star in the series. 

​ ​

Related News