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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 columnist Taarak Mehta and his column Duniya Ne Oondha Chashmah for a Gujarati weekly magazine Chitralekha since 1973. A column on social issues, it was picked up by producer Asit Kumar Modi owing to its relevance today. "While most family-oriented soaps resemble Bollywood feature films of the '70s and '80s, a daily comedy has to have original stories and screenplays," says Modi.
Apart from Taarak Mehta, there have been several shows in the recent past that have 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 the writings of eminent Hindi satirist Sharad Joshi. JD Majethia, known for shows such as Khichdi, Shree and Baa and RK Laxman Ki Duniya, has bought the rights of Gujarati novel Ek Meethi Daal and is working on its screenplay right now. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's upcoming magnum opus Saraswatichandra is 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, the producer of Gora, says, "I initially wanted to make the novel into a film. While I was researching for it, I realised that Tagore had, in fact, 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 to the small screen is age-old. The two most prominent instances — Ramayana and Mahabharata — were adapted for television 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," says Majethia. "It gives you more time to work on a screenplay, because you know your subject well," he adds.
However, adaptation comes with its set of challenges. Somnath Sen, the director of Gora, says, "The toughest part was to translate the celebrated text into a script, which would be coherent to the viewers. Also, we had to recreate the era in Bengal as described in the book."
Even with more contemporary works, constant improvisation is a must, says Modi. "You can't stick to everything that is written because times change and people evolve," he says. TRPs also influence a show's slant. For RK Laxman Ki Duniya, a show inspired by RK Laxman's 'common man', Majethia made several changes in the screenplay. "The book has the common man of yesterday, in the show, we changed him to the common man of today," he says.