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A few weeks ago, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah completed 1,000 episodes. While this once again established the show's popularity, it also brought back to focus the columnist Taarak Mehta and his column Duniya Ne Oondha Chashmah, written by him for a Gujarati weekly magazine Chitralekha since 1973. A column on social issues, it was picked up by producer Asit Kumar Modi because of its strong content and the relevance it holds even today. "While most family-oriented soaps resemble Bollywood feature films of the '70s and '80s, a daily comedy often has to have original stories and screenplays," says Modi.
Apart from Taarak Mehta, there have been several shows in the recent past that have been borrowed from various forms of literature. Gora, a new show on Doordarshan is an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's novel of the same name. Another show on SAB, Lapataganj, is inspired by writings of Sharad Joshi, an eminent Hindi satirist. JD Majethia who is known for shows such as Khichdi, Shree and Baa and RK Laxman Ki Duniya, has bought the rights of a Gujarati novel, Ek Meethi Daal and is working on its screenplay right now. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's upcoming magnum opus Saraswati Chandra is too based on Govardhan Tripati's novel of the same name.
For most writers, adapting a novel is easy because it already has the characters well etched out. Gargi Sen, producer of Gora, says, "I initially wanted to make the novel into a film. While I was researching for it I realised that Tagore, in fact, had written it episodically in 24 parts. Hence our job was made easy. All we did was add a bit of nuances, and made it into 26 episodes."
However, the trend of adapting literary works on small screen is an age-old one in India. The two most prominent instances are that of, Ramayana and Mahabharata, which were adapted on screen by Ramanand Sagar and BR Chopra respectively. Other such shows are Malgudi Days, Tamas, Kathasagar, Vikram Aur Betaal and Ek Kahani. "All written works have a beginning, middle and an end. This makes the task of adapting them for a show easy," feels Majethia. "It gives you more time to work on a screenplay, because you know your subject well."