Sampath G

The filmi fly in the literary soup

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2012 at 8:07 am

Published: Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009, 2:10 IST 
By G Sampath | Place: Jaipur | Agency: DNA
Is it possible to host a successful literature festival without high voltage filmi connections? This question kept popping up among delegates on the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, which concluded last Sunday. In the past, there had generally been one literary superstar who stamped his personality on the event, so much so that the festival came to be associated with that author: last year, for instance, Ian McEwan charmed everyone with his wit and warmth, while in 2007, Salman Rushdie made the festival his own.
This year, despite it being the biggest in terms of sheer magnitude (or perhaps because of it), there was no single author who could have been considered the presiding deity of the festival. Michael Ondaatje would have filled that slot, except that he dropped out at the last minute. Sure, a lively band of Pakistani authors led by Mohammed Hanif did connect with Indian participants, and American historian Simon Schama bowled everyone over with his brilliant oratory. Yet it was the filmi connections — Vikas Slumdog Swarup, Amitabh Bachchan, Nandita Das and Gulzar — that cornered a disproportionate amount of screen time and print space. Swarup himself would be the first to admit that he may not have been in Jaipur this year if his Q&A hadn’t been made into a film. But how many authors are lucky enough to have their books recreated on celluloid? Incidentally, there was another author present at the Festival, a Booker winner, whose book was made into an Oscar-winning film — Australian novelist Thomas Keneally, whose Schindler’s Ark was made into Schindler’s List. He told this writer, “I have written several novels after Schindler’s Ark, some perhaps with more literary merit. But they did not receive as much attention simply because they weren’t made into films.” Keneally, by the way, was barely noticed at the festival, with first-time authors, first-time directors, and one-book wonders making more of a splash.
This is not to say that ‘filmi’ people have no place in a literary festival. Bachchan has as much right to be there as Chetan Bhagat, who was spotted having a deep intellectual discussion with Pico Iyer. But their presence does raise the inevitable question: does a literature festival need film celebs to prop it up? A possible clue to the answer: the only session that was almost unanimously dismissed as a flop show was the one featuring the Big B.
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