The third edition of Mumbai Film Festival’s annual Word to Screen market returned with the promise of creating better ties between publishers and filmmakers. The market, which was created by Kiran Rao, Anupama Chopra and Smriti Kiran in 2016, gives a platform for authors, publishers and literary agents to sell their works for potential adaptations for films and television series. Curated by publisher Arpita Das, the founder of Yoda Press, the event was held in Mumbai on August 30 and 31.

This year’s event had more quantity and quality, Das said in an interview. “We had 390 entries this year, which absolutely blew our mind,” Das said. “There are stories around marginal voices, Dalit and Adivasi writing, political dissent and the Me Too movement. In a sense all these stories mirrors our socio-political reality so clearly.”

The two-day event was attended by filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap, Amit Masurkar, Ram Madhvani, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari and Anjali Menon and authors including Jerry Pinto and Namita Devidayal.

Out of the 390 entries, over 90 titles were in Indian languages. Thirty-seven books in English, Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, and Malayalam were selected from the master list for optioning, including Sundara Ramaswamy’s Oru Puliyamarathin Kathai, Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain and Manoranjan Byapari’s Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit.

The list of selected entries was shared with filmmakers and producers two weeks before the event, Das explained. This was followed by pitch meetings, where authors were given a chance of interacting with the filmmakers and studio heads, among them Aamir Khan Productions, Fox Star Studios, Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Roy Kapur Films and Phantom Films.

This year’s edition had a variety of languages and interests, Das said. “To get a publisher come in from Chhattisgarh or Assam energises the narrative,” she added. “Because we know so little about what is happening in the borderlands and what exciting stories there are. There is one story about a female executioner and another about a Dalit IAS officer who, because he is a Dalit superior, treats the Brahmin peon in a particular way because the roles have been reversed.”

Filmmakers too are becoming more open to unconventional ideas, Das said. “There was a time three years ago when if we brought a radical Hindi book, somebody from the filmmaking community might be hesitant, but today they are asking for the more radical and gender-oriented ideas. The two industries are now more in sync because of the convergence that has happened over the last three years. It is dialogue throughout the year.”

A good adaptation is also capable of driving book sales, Das contended. “Adaptations drive book sales as much as awards,” she said. “The most obvious example is Sacred Games. I was speaking to my friend at Penguin. She informed me that the e-books sales of Sacred Games have gone up even more than the print book sales. Obviously people want to know what happens in the book after watching an episode. I did that.”

Bengali writer Manoranjan Byapari. Courtesy Mumbai Academy of Moving Images.
Bengali writer Manoranjan Byapari. Courtesy Mumbai Academy of Moving Images.

The books that have been chosen for adaptations at the market in the past two years include Sagarika Ghose’s Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister (2017), which was acquired by Roy Kapur Films. Also scooped up were Shashi Deshpande’s Strangers to Ourselves, by filmmaker Hansal Mehta, Madhumita Bhattacharyya’s The Masala Murder and Sonia Bahl’s The Spectacular Miss.

But couldn’t this have been possible if publishers approached producers directly? In an ideal world, yes, Das pointed out: “It just was not happening. These two groups should interact and talk, but they don’t. We wanted to make this happen and that is how Word to Screen came to be.”

The true success of the market will be when there is a confluence between both worlds, Das argued. “It will be some day when we no longer have to exist because there is so much convergence between the two industries. That is what we are trying to do,” she said.

Arpita Das.
Arpita Das.