Title: Dhanak: Rainbow
Story & Screenplay: Nagesh Kukunoor
Novelisation: Anushka Ravishankar
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction
Tags: Novelisation/Film/Nagesh Kukunoor/Siblings/Blindness/Birthday/Journey
In the seventy years-plus history of the Academy Awards, seventy per cent of the total number of best-film awards have gone to movies derived from novels; that is, to novel adaptations. In sharp contrast, novels derived from movies – novelisations – get no respect. Novelisations don’t win any major literary awards. They are not required reading in university courses. No movie poster has ever boasted that the story was soon coming to a novel near you. Even their book covers are little more than film posters. This lack of respect has many fathers. Typically, novelisations are part of marketing tie-in campaigns to increase movie sales. The novelisation isn’t seen as an independent artistic product in itself. For example, the author has to stick closely to the movie’s version of the story. By convention, the author has to restrain from using all the techniques available to the novel. At the same time, the author has the difficult task of describing with words what the film does with images. Worse, the textual narrative is interrupted by movie stills. Imagine if a movie were interrupted with reams of text? Sure, we may have become used to treating novelisations with disrespect, but as Paine pointed out, the long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, often gives it the false impression of being right.
All this makes me quite reluctant to label Ravishankar's work a novelisation. Yes, it is based on Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak. However, the book is worth reading on its own account. The story’s main characters are eight-year-old Chotu and his elder sister Pari who live in Churu Dhani, a village in Rajasthan. They don’t have much, but they have each other, so they have all they need. Well, that’s not entirely true. The third major character in the novel is Chotu’s blindness. Were he not blind, there wouldn’t have been much of a story to tell. But Chotu is blind, and Pari has promised to fix his sight by his ninth birthday, which is a mere two months away. Enter Shahrukh Khan. Or rather, enter a poster of Shahrukh Khan. Pari persuades herself that the famous actor will give them the money for the operation to restore Chotu’s eyesight. Now that the story has both a clock and a goal, all that is needed is a road. After a particularly nasty fight at home (the orphaned siblings are in the care of a drunken uncle and a bad-tempered aunt), the kids set off to find Shahrukh Khan and lighten his wallet.
Ravishankar’s no-fuss writing and reliance on dialogue to characterize is effective. The kids come across as plucky and resourceful. As expected, they meet a number of suitably freakish characters, some good, some bad, and learn useful life lessons along the way. Despite the familiarity of the plot, there is genuine tension every time a new set of strangers show up. Will they be kind? Or will they be agents of chaos, the familiar villains of all-too-familiar newspaper headlines? And of course, what about Shahrukh Khan? Will Pari finally achieve her dream?
Of course, she will. This hardly counts as a spoiler. For one thing, the book’s cover has Hetal Gada, the actress who plays young Pari, leading Krrish Chabria, the actor who plays Chotu. They look like they’re having a blast. That’s a plot spoiler right there. The cover also instructed me on how I was to imagine Pari and Chotu.
I understand this is how novelisations are marketed. But it robs the reader, at least this reader, of one of the private pleasures of reading a story: imagining the physical presence of the characters. The constraints of novelisation also eliminates the other great reward of reading: inhabiting their minds. It is true Ravishankar often dips into what Chotu and Pari are thinking, but she mainly reports simple feelings and summary decisions. For this reason, many of Pari’s decisions come across as poorly thought-out. Idiotic, in fact. She sets off with her blind brother on a long trip – Jaisalmer is “just” three hundred kilometres from their village. What does she pack? The movie has the luxury of revealing things with just a single shot. But the text needs to work harder. Instead we are simply told “she packed some things into a bag.” What things? Whatever Pari needs to pull out during the course of the story, I guess. The availability of bathrooms is not a worry. Nor does it seem to worry Pari that though it’s relatively easy to lead a blind person over familiar territory, it could be much harder to assist them over unfamiliar terrain. They don’t have any means to get to Jaisalmer. Enter Gardu Bana, convenient helper number 1. The villagers are the usual stock figments of urban India’s rural fantasy. Perhaps the movie does a better job, but the text, had its author been freed, could have done the same job a thousand times better.
Movie novelisations are second-class citizens of fiction. So, the author, reader and the story are all poorly served. There is another approach however. A movie adaptation of a novel is usually a re-imagination of the story. I see no reason why a novelisation could not be permitted the same liberties as with a movie. It would be in the best interests of all. Why do people like to read movie reviews? Because they get a perspective on the movie. Similarly, a novelisation could be such a perspective on the movie, a perspective which also happens to be a story. In the case of a franchise, the facts are even clearer. Once viewers get hooked into a movie franchise, they mutate into text fiends. The books can make more money than the movie itself. For example, so far there have been thirteen Star Trek movies. Compare that paltry number with the roughly 1,250 novels set in the Star Trek universe (with about forty new ones being added each year)!
If the current limitations of novelisations are ignored, then Ravishankar’s Dhanak is an enjoyable, lighthearted novel, with an undercurrent of far more serious concerns. Pari and Chotu are endearing, believable characters. One roots for them to succeed. If you have eyes, first solicit a loved one to give them a smooch. It isn’t possible to appreciate one’s sight too much. Then send the peepers on a road trip with Pari and Chotu.
Story/Content: 3/5 stars
Language: 3/5 stars
Design: 3/5 stars
Anil Menon started out wanting to be an accountant, took a long detour through computer science and ended up a fiction writer. He’s the author of The Beast With Nine Billion Feet (Young Zubaan, 2010) and Half Of What I Say (Bloomsbury, 2015).