Analysing the trend of book adaptations in the Indian OTT and web entertainment content space

The Emerging Trend of Book Adaptations On The Web – The Way Forward

Content producers are always on the lookout for a great story idea. Hardly anything gets their blood singing and hearts pounding than hitting upon a thrilling tale for their next big magnum opus. The show-runner’s almost Pavlovian response to a great plotline underlines the singular importance the story holds for the success of a show. This premise holds true for content creators everywhere, whether desi or videshi. Give them a scintillating storyline and entertaining plot and you’ve got them eating out of your hands.

In book adaptations, content creatorshave chanced upon the Holy Grail of story ideas.

The breath-taking success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is based on George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, has inspired a glut of shows adapted from novels, both contemporary and classic. The Handmaid’s Tale, Sharp Objects, Big Little Lies, American Gods and Orange is the New Black are some of the recent shows adapted from books, which have tasted unbridled success among viewers.

But that is the story of foreign shores. The Indian content space has been decidedly slow on the uptake when it comes to book adaptations, both in mainstream TV and in the film industry.

In fact, even a cursory glance at recent Indian TV shows will tell you that they aren’t particularly known to be high on intelligence.

Yes, once upon a time, in the days of yore, Indian content was an intelligent, pertinent being. Doordarshan ruled the roost, and intelligent, well-made shows assuaged the appetite of everyone, intellectuals and commons, alike.

Then gradually, the Indian content space went from being an intellectual medium to a purveyor of trashy shows, voyeuristic spectacles, primitive saas-bahu sagas, supernatural dramas, possessed humans, crass comedy shows and cheap, cringe-worthy content. From the pinnacle of intellectualism, it soon lolled in the nadir of mediocrity.

Book adaptations are all the rage today, a trend that is set to be stoked further, what with the Indian literary scene a treasure-trove of great story ideas

Yet, all is not lost. The advent of web shows and OTT platforms in India has given rise to a rich milieu of intelligent content and intriguing storylines that appeal to audiences of every stratum. But jadedness and ennui began to creep in ever so quickly in the OTT space too. After all, how much more of gangsta capers, slice-of-life dramas, and erotica could one take after a certain period? The space threatened to go the TV way, when an interesting development stemmed that tide ­– the smashing success of Netflix’s Sacred Games in 2018.

Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap’s cerebral tour de force, adapted from Vikram Chandra’s massive 2006 tome of the same name, Sacred Games proved to be a game-changer in the Indian OTT space. Taking a cue from their brethren in the west, and having observed the unequivocal success of foreign book adaptations and also of the home-grown Sacred Games, Indian web content platforms soon realized that books offer a rich source of material to weave compelling, diverse narratives.

And they didn’t even need to look westwards for absorbing books to adapt. The movers and shakers of the content world discovered a parallel world of enthralling creativity within the country itself. On looking carefully, our filmmakers learnt that India is chock-a-block with young, contemporary writers who have authored hugely successful novels rooted in Indian sensibilities;novels that cry out to be adapted, by dint of their engaging plots and outright relatability with Indian audiences. And we all know that relatability is practically the God particle of great content.

Sacred Games was soon followed by more book adaptations for the web. Zee5’s Arjun Rampal-starrer, The Final Call, an adaptation of Priya Kumar’s 2015 novel, I Will Go With You;Netflix’s Selection Day, adapted from Aravind Adiga’s eponymous novel; Zee5’s Parchhayee, based on Ruskin Bond’s horror stories; Eros Now’s Modi- The Journey of a Common Man, adapted from Kishore Makwana’s book, Common Man’s PM – Narendra Modi, were some web series adapted from books.

And in the wake of these adaptations, the trend shows no signs of abating. This year will see the release of several web series adapted from books ­– Red Chillies Entertainment’s Bard of Blood; Applause Entertainment’s Marry Me Stranger Trilogy, adapted from Novoneel Chatterjee’s popular thrillers, The Scam and India’s Most Fearless; Sheetal Talwar’s Why I Am A Hindu, based on Shashi Tharoor’s book of the same name, are some of the high-profile books-turned-web series to hit the OTT space.

Wait, there’s more – Netflix is set to adapt Salman Rushdie’s classic Midnight’s Children, while Kabir Khan has almost wrapped up his ode to Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, in a web series called The Forgotten Army, based on Peter Ward Fay’s book of the same name.

Book adaptations are all the rage today, a trend that is set to be stoked further, what with the Indian literary scene a treasure-trove of great story ideas. However, there are a few dissenting voices that deride this trend, averring that it smacks of a distinct lack of creativity and plain old laziness on the part of content creators to simply adapt material that is already out in the public domain.

That notwithstanding, it is our opinion that mining books for web series is much better and way more dignified than the blatant plagiarism content creators indulged in earlier.

What’s more, the books set to be adapted are the crème de la crème of the Indian literary world. If the hoi polloi do not get acquainted with them by way of reading, isn’t it great that web series creators are bringing them before the masses in an easily consumable form?

At present, web series adapted from books are merely a trickle. We hope the trickle turns into a deluge, so that Indian viewers are exposed to content that is truly ingenuous and cerebral. And more power to it!

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