Lost in translation

Lost in translation

It’s not always easy to take a good idea and turn it into an even better product; be it in films or business

KAUSHIK NADADHUR

The Academy Awards might not be the most balanced of award systems and one might not always agree with the jury decisions, but one cannot contest its popularity amongst filmmakers and film watchers alike. It has become the de-facto annual event for the average movie fan to eagerly predict winners, to root for his favorites, to celebrate the wins and to make a mental note to catch the not-to-be-missed movies. This time around, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds abounded with that infamous punch line from Argo that is obviously unsuitable for publication here, how Django Unchained deserved all the awards only for the super-cool-awesomeness of Quentin Tarantino and how Zero Dark Thirty was cut an unfair deal by seemingly being judged on grounds that had nothing to do with the quality of filmmaking. I personally didn’t actively follow the awards, considering I had managed to watch very few of the nominated films by then and also because I really didn’t have any personal favorites that I wanted to see winning an award.  However the one category I really watched closely is ‘Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay’ and the fact that Life of Pi did not win, had me nodding in agreement with the Oscar jury. And before you get me wrong, I actually didn’t mind the movie at all, unlike many others who had also read Yann Martel’s book and found the film adaptation disappointing.

It is always a challenge to translate someone else’s vision and create something out of it. The disconnect between what one person imagines and what the other person thinks he imagines cannot always be resolved completely, especially because the latter also tends to superimpose his own vision on the former’s.

The essence of conversion

Life of Pi was brilliant in bringing to life scenes that could only be imagined previously and the visuals that ranged from the spectacular to the surreal could enthrall both those who hadn’t read the book and those who had.  Even more impressive was the measured use of 3D and the maximum use of CGI, the latter particularly coming to the fore in the rendering of the tiger that is practically the second lead in the movie. I must mention the scene where the tiger is floundering in the sea on the verge of drowning and a close-up shot of its face, particularly its eyes. In that moment, the tiger goes from being a feared beast to a helpless, sympathy evoking creature that is begging to be rescued.  Where Life of Pi fails is in its inability to capture the essence of the novel on screen. The purpose we attach to life is governed primarily by whom we love and what we do. If one were to lose all he had and expected to start with a clean slate, wouldn’t life cease to be purposeful? Isn’t it easy to give in, lose resolve and become disillusioned as to what the point of living life is? The colossal magnitude of Pi’s loss, the indescribable emptiness that it creates in his life, the desperation of being all alone, not just at sea, but in life as well and how the fantastic company he finds and the fascinating encounters with the natural world he has, magically fuel his will to survive are all way more effective in the novel than in the movie. Even the climax that questions what is real and what is imaginary, evoking questions of faith, belief, existentialism and once again the purpose of life, is so much more impactful when read than seen on screen.

It is always a challenge to translate someone else’s vision and create something out of it. The disconnect between what one person imagines and what the other person thinks he imagines cannot always be resolved completely, especially because the latter also tends to superimpose his own vision on the former’s .  In business, as in the movies, the idea to product conversion is a classic case of such a challenging translation. Entrepreneurs in startups are in the enviable or unenviable position, depending on the way you see it, of dealing with all aspects of this conversion. So they are almost completely in control of seeing the idea transform into a product, just the way they had imagined it. But as startups grow, it becomes more and more difficult to be involved in all the stages of an idea becoming a product. Tasks get broken down and distributed and while effective communication and co-ordination can keep things somewhat consistent, at times, the way a product was designed and the way it turns out need not always be in sync. Growing companies attempt to bridge this gap by putting in place standard processes and methodologies, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to how well an idea gets through multiple transfers and translations and reaches its final form

While on the topic of ineffective film adaptations of novels, I really enjoyed the Hindi movie, Kai Po Che. This movie seems to be at the other end of the spectrum as it is universally acknowledged to be superlatively better than the novel it is based on. Maybe there is a business lesson there as to how even mediocre ideas can be turned into successful products, but I will probably save writing about that for another day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *