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September 14, 1999
Don't Get Me Wrong. I Love This Movie: Sidhwa
R S Shankar in Houston
When Bapsi Sidhwa wrote an article in The New York Times , recounting musing how her novel, Cracking India (Ice Candy Man in England and India) was transformed into a movie by Deepa Mehta, she says she was voicing the frustration many writers feel.
Although she worked closely with Mehta, she soon realized that the director, who also wrote the script, 'jettisoned the episodes, amalgamated characters.' Sidhwa, who attended part of the shooting in New Delhi, also realized that it was director Mehta's vision of the book that matters. '...It is like handing over one's child to the care of someone you trust.'
She says she initially felt frustrated that many characters and episodes in the book did not survive in the screenplay. Some were edited out as the movie began its film festival rounds, but she says she realized early on during the shooting that a film is not a mini series, and that a director will make selective choices. Her discussions and writings on the transformation of her semi-autobiographical novel should not be mistaken, she asserts. "Don't get me wrong. I love this movie."
"Deepa Mehta has made a beautiful, haunting film. And I am glad my book is finally reaching millions of people through this film," she says.
She is afraid an incident she recalled in an article in the Times could be misread. Sidhwa wrote about a scene in the book in which the Ice Candy Man (Aamir Khan) gives a cache of stolen golden coins to the ayah (Nandita Das) who holds it flat of her palm and says, 'I don't want it.'
In the script, he folds her fingers over the coin.
Though the ayah returns the coin, Sidhwa thought an important gesture had been omitted and said so to Aamir Khan. Mehta heard of Sidhwa's reaction and wanted something done about it.
'As she approaches,' Sidhwa wrote, 'black hair spread, eyes ablaze in the night light, she resembles Hindu goddess Kali. I quake. Deepa brings her hands together in a loud clap and holds them before her bowed head in the posture of an angry supplicant: a very angry one. "Please don't ever do this to me again... There is only one director on the set." '
When Sidhwa saw the film a few months later, she realized how well the scene had worked.
The film is "rich and poetic, and not a mere adaptation of the novel," she adds, "and yet it remains true to the spirit and tone of the novel." Having a woman direct the film was significant, she adds.
"There are many wonderful men directors, and they would have brought their own gifts to the film, but they were might not have brought out the subtleties, the internal focus that Deepa brought to the movie."
Sidhwa says she is bowled over by the performances and music, too.
Aamir Khan, the embittered ice candy man who is in love with the ayah, has "brought empathy, intelligence and intensity to the role," Sidhwa says.
"When we see him grieving at the loss of his sisters, when he talks to the ayah about the caged beast, the evil that is within him and in all men, he is utterly convincing. The movement of his eyes, the way their expression changes in the last scene, made my hair stand on end."
Sidhwa is not sure whether the movie needed the songs but she found A R Rahman's compositions "honest and refreshing". The songs have added "their own dimension of beauty and delight to the movie," she says.
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