Friday, July 6, 2012

Hire me, Bollywood: Kiss of the Spider Woman re-imagining

Argentinian author Manuel Puig's novel "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (illustrated here by the novel's stylish Finnish translation cover art) draws a lot out of a simple premise: the dialogue between two prisoners, one a staunch communist activist and the other an effeminate gay man, forms almost the entirety of the novel. Valentin, the former, listens to Molina, the latter, tell him stories from old movies - through these re-tellings they discuss each other, life, politics and love.

The novel was perhaps the first to be told almost entirely through dialogue (with some official documents and footnotes relishing the story on the side), and it was later adapted into a stage version, that was then made into an Academy Award-winning film.

And after I finished reading and mulling this story over, I just thought to myself, "This would make a fantastic Indian film."

Why do I think it's so ripe for an Indian film remake? If you've read the novel, you know it packs a punch precisely because there is so much there to get into. The stories of the films tell us something about the character who narrates them; Molina is an escapist at heart, stuck in a world that doesn't accept him, but as the novel also shows, stuck inside these gendered misconceptions of both himself and the world around him. This kind of escapism is what forms a large part of the tradition of Indian films - the other reality where the corrupt politicians get beaten up by brave populist heroes, where the beautiful girl and the handsome boy fight adversity and find love despite their families' disapproval, the classic melodramatic heroines singing poetic tunes about their woes.. 

These kinds of aspects would find an easy translation into the films of Hindi film yore. Then there are things about the character that would obviously be different. Molina's identification with femininity means he might be categorised as a hijra in the Indian context. Or the character might be more closeted in terms of who he really is, and who he wants to be. 

Valentin, on the other hand, is the revolutionary, whose movement relies on secrecy, but who suddenly finds it impossible not to share some of himself with Molina. The two men form a bond - and without spoiling, it's safe to say this bond is not easily defined, especially given their unusual circumstances. Valentin seems haunted by doubts about his cause, and his constant reading of political literature seems to be partly due wanting to educate himself, but also to make sure he remains committed to his cause. 

India's history has no shortness of revolutionary movements, and at least in some states, the Maoist Naxalite movement has been seen as gaining prominence (as well as being classified a terrorist organisation by official authorities). So again, this would not necessarily be a difficult thing to transplant into the Indian context. 

In the novel, they get through many films - six according to some counts, seven according to others. In the film and stage version, they only delve deeply into one. On the page, scenes can whizz by when narrated, but in film, telling a story takes longer. But the narration of the films are integral to the story, not just because they form such a big part of it, but also because they cut into the differences between these two characters - Molina's melodramatic tastes in film reflect popular cinema, whereas communist Valentin's dismissal of certain films, certain scenes in them, seems to suggest an elitism. A really good director could form a story, a film within a film, with this narration, that would dig deep into this particular contrast between the two characters. The political v the non-political, the progressive v the socially conservative, the popular v the high-brow.

As for casting, well, if you want to aim big,  then why not aim the biggest? Aamir Khan as the brooding, uncertain Valentin, plagued by his past regrets but committed to his cause. Shahrukh Khan as the equally uncertain but only as fragile as he allows himself to be Molina, the narrator of the films that stir such emotions inside them both, the eternal escapist, unhappy in this world but with little desire to change it. For both stars, these would be bold roles, and fascinating characters to play; and of course, I am fantasy-casting like it's going out of style, here.

If you've not read this novel yet, do so, as I highly recommend it. I cannot speak about the strength of the English translation, as I read the novel in Finnish, but I assume it'd be worth it.

1 comment:

celine said...

I would certainly prefer to read more foreign fiction which were translated from French translation to english, or in any languages.Because in that way I could have an idea what do people think,feel or their culture is.When we read books from a foreign country it seems like travelling in that country through the stories plot.We could recognize how they have been living afar from our own culture.I could say that translators really play a big role in our society.I can't see machines taking over the jobs of human translators in the near future, as they have done with so many other professions.