Book Chat: Through the literary lens

Published On: June 16, 2016 09:13 PM NPT By: The Week Bureau

Cinema halls may be selling out with moviegoers super excited to finally catch Min Bham's Kalo Pothi but the man himself has quietly moved on to his next project.

The director, who won the Best Film title, under the Critics’ Choice category, at the prestigious Venice International Festival, predictably has had a hectic schedule of late. In fact, just a couple of days ago, he has had to make impromptu plans for a day trip to Pokhara. 

It was set to be a business trip. However, Bham claims that the one thing he was looking forward to was making the most of the bus journey and finishing a book that had been long overdue. Apparently, reading is one of his favorite activities and he even has a huge private collection of books to prove it. From it Bham picked out a few of his favorites as recommendations for The Week’s readers and also reflected on our local literary scene.  

Are there any specific writers whose style you really appreciate?
I admire a writer's ability to transport their readers into a new world. But I’m not fussy about how he chooses to do so. There aren't any particular writing styles that I’m biased about. But I do become incredibly disappointed when a writer underestimates his readers. I think it becomes very obvious in his writing. The writer may choose to put in longer descriptions, unnecessarily elaborate at certain parts or continue beating around the bush. These are tell-tale signs that the writer is underestimating the reader's capability and I consider this as one of the biggest cardinal sins in literature. 

Still every now and then, you come across such work. I'd say this is particularly common in our Nepali literature scene.

You are friends with many prominent Nepali writers. Have you ever shared this opinion with them?  
We have had discussions on the matter. From what I gather, to an extent, Nepali writers seem to believe that they have to write in a certain way and pick certain kind of stories so as to not alienate the masses. They worry that intellectually superior literature only caters to a certain class. It's the most common defense I have heard so far. Personally, I wonder who assigns different levels of reading to different class. Who are we to assume? If provided access, you never know, the so called underprivileged might very well surpass our expectations. 

There must be works of Nepali literature that you admire as well?
Yes, certainly there are many. From B.P Koirala to Bijay Malla, I have read them all. I keep tabs of the new contemporary writers as well so I actually doubt if there are any works of Nepali fiction out there that I haven't read yet. I’m especially a big fan of the classics. For instance, I have read Parijat almost 12 times. Of the bunch though, my current favorite is Kumar Nagarkoti. First of all, he is a writer who doesn't underestimate his readers. Plus his kind of experimental work is also helping bring a new dimension to our scene. 

Again, this is my personal opinion but it seems most of our Nepali novels are based on a series of emotions meaning we read about the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies that occurs in a character's life. But literature has the ability to be so much more. It should have the power to shake the core of the reader. So while others are lagging a little behind in this aspect, Nagarkoti does manage to capture my imagination.

So has your reading habits had an impact on your filmmaking ability as well?
For every profession, knowledge is paramount. So as a director, this reading habit has always helped fulfill my thirst to learn more. I have never taken ideas from novels and writers as I believe to try and emulate somebody else's thought process would be a trap in itself. We are two totally different individuals so it's useless to try and steal their concept. But I do get inspired by books every now and then. When I do find a character, sequence or scene appealing, the best I can do is try and get as close as possible to its emotions to understand it. And then I must interpret it on my own.

In many ways, film is a part of literature. It may not exactly be the case here in our country but 30-40 percent of movies in the west are adapted from books. So at the end of the day, writers and filmmakers have the same purpose: share stories and help connect people. It's just that our mediums are different. If in books, the words help reader's visualize, in films the case is reversed, the viewers' must look for the text in the pictures.

Many filmmakers have failed in their quest to successfully adapt books to the big screen. Why do you think that is? And would you dare attempt an adaptation yourself?
Taking a book to the big screen is a long transition full of challenges. Here I believe the director has only two options. Either he can choose to stick as close as possible to the original written version and try and please the faithful readers or he can offer an adaptation from a completely dynamic and new angle. The latter's objective is to break the perception that has been created by the book. I think filmmakers' tend to disappoint when they can't set their mind on which route to take and settle half way. 

There are many English books I would like to adapt into movies. There are a couple Nepali ones as well and as it happens, on the top of my wish list is Indra Bahadur Rai's Chaya Maya Afu Matra Lekha Parne Hoina. The novel has such a big canvas. It may be a simple story but you can see our entire nation in it. The characters and their journeys reflect our people's and country's philosophy in a very acute way. So this would be my pick, though I have my doubts it will ever come true. The cost of it all would be too high.

On Bham's bookshelf

The Bhagavad Gita
This may be a religious text and an unorthodox recommendation but this might as well as be the first book I suggest people to read. To a large extent, the purpose of reading books is to understand life. We are all in search of answers and Gita has them all. The book will help the reader recognize himself and then understand those around him as well.

by Hermann Hesse

It amazes me that Hesse was able to take such a big plot and represent it in a form of a diary. This is such an interesting approach to tell a story that we have all heard of to varying degrees. One can hope to be entertained as well as attain spiritual wisdom by reading this book.

Maile Najamnayeko Chora 
by Parijat

First of all, you can never go wrong by picking Parijat’s works but from all the masterpieces, I'd definitely go for Maile Najamnayeko Chora. In my opinion, this book gives a sincere insight into people's inner voice. Throughout the story, we can play witness to the strength of desire as well as realize its limitations.

Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami

 I’m immensely impressed with Murakami's honesty. He is one of those writers who are not afraid to lay it bare on the page for their readers. There isn't any deceit here and the range of his emotions is almost overwhelming. Norwegian Wood is a great example of this ability of his. It's as gripping as you would expect a Murakami book to be.

A Country Doctor 
by Franz Kafka

And last, but certainly not the least, everybody must read Kafka at one point of their lives. It's actually agonizing to have to only pick one of his works. When I spoke of writers who don't underestimate their readers and give them the challenge they deserve, Kafka certainly came to my mind. His books are shining examples of the kind of writing that inevitably make an impact.


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