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bollywood and lit

You wouldn't believe what I did all day, even if I told you about it.

The Hindustan Times has a story exploring why beloved Urdu writer Munshi Premchand's work hasn't been adapted for the screen more often. I find the angle fascinating, as I can't think of any stories I've ever seen in American media wishing and wondering why a famous author's work hasn't hit the screen. But maybe that's because I'm braindead and just not thinking of it. (I'm also not counting, "oh, I'd love to see that one" and anticipatory articles on works in development.)

I must confess I've never read any of Premchand's work, but is his work's anything like the story of his life, I'm in. His novels and stories (all 300 of them!) are credited with inventing the serious novel and short story in Hindi and Urdu, so sayeth the bios linked to above.

Considering his unparalleled stature as a raconteur of his times, the imagination and spirit of Urdu-Hindi litterateur Munshi Premchand has rarely been reflected on the canvas of Indian popular cinema quite to the extent that one would have expected. To date, only three major Hindi (or Urdu) feature films have been based on his stories and one of these comes from the globally applauded oeuvre of a filmmaker who never worked in Mumbai.

As the great writer's admirers prepare to celebrate his 124th birth anniversary on August 8 - Doordarshan, for one, is scheduled to unveil the first part of poet-filmmaker Gulzar's 26-episode serial Tehreer… Munshi Premchand Ki on that day - commercial Hindi cinema continues on its merry ways with clichéd boy-meets-girl capers (Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and Kyon… Ho Gaya Na) and derivative biker flicks (Dhoom), to mention only two genres that are currently in the news.

It might however be unfair to put all the blame at the doors of contemporary Bollywood filmmakers. Even in far gentler times, when literature did have pride of place in the Mumbai film industry, Munshi Premchand was hardly ever the dominant flavour of the era. That neglect of his enormous body of work could perhaps be attributed to the master storyteller's own personal disillusionment with Hindi films before his death in 1936.

Raconteur is a word that should be in more common usage.


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