Literature has long been an inspiration to cinema and television. In the international history of cinema and television, we find many examples of a successful marriage between literature — particularly the novel — and on-screen adaptations.
In Egypt, many on-screen works based on literature are cemented in Egyptian collective memory, including the numerous adaptations of Naguib Mahfouz’s novels, which during the 1960s were very common and popular on the silver screen, and later on television.
After a somewhat prolonged period of decline in the number of such adaptations, cinema has gradually returned to look to literature for its subjects.
Some recent examples are the 2010 film Asafir El-Nil (The Nile’s Birds) directed by Magdy Ahmed Ali based on the novel by the late novelist Ibrahim Aslan, then in 2014 El-Fil El-Azraq (The Blue Elephant) directed by Marwan Hamed based on Ahmed Morad’s novel, and more recently in 2016 Hepta directed by Hany El-Bagoury based on the novel by Mohamed Sadek.
Television seems to be interested in the same direction, most notably with last year’s Ramadan series Afrah El-Qobba directed by Mohamed Yassin, based on Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. This year there are two such series: Wahat El-Ghoroub (Sunset Oasis) based on the eponymous book by Bahaa Taher, directed by Kamla Abou Zekri with a script written by Mariam Naoum, and La Totfee Al-Shams (The Sun Will Never Set) based on Ihsan AbdelKodous’ novel, directed by Mohamed Shaker Khodeir with the script adapted by Tamer Habib.
This somewhat strong comeback of literature to television drama brings up some questions, including the reason for its return, and the effect of this on the quality of the screen adaptation.
Some regard the periods in which literature was present on screen as periods of prosperity, and a fertile ground for presenting screenplays of a high quality.
“The quality of the book itself is not a benchmark for the quality of the series,” critic Tarek El-Shennawy told Al-Ahram Arabic news.
“A good work of literature doesn’t necessarily ensure a good screenplay or series. Each medium has its own language and laws. It does give a probability that it will be good, but it is never guaranteed,” he added.
El-Shennawy gives examples of previous adaptations, such as “El-Kit Kat film based on El-Malek El-Hazeen (The Sad King) by Ibrahim Aslan, that was directed successfully by Dawood Abdelsayed. On the oher hand, the book Asafir El-Nil by the same author, when adapted to film, failed to capture the spirit of cinema, even though it was closely faithful to the book and Aslan himself was one of the scriptwriters.”
Some may say cinema and television are at a good place since they are looking to literature for ideas. Supporting this notion is the success of similar works, such as the recent production of last year Afrah El-Qobba, which was critically acclaimed and widely popular among viewers.
El-Shennawy still asserts, however, that the original book might not be the reason, and each medium has its own particularities. He believes that it all goes back to the elements in the screen adaptation and how they are presented.
“Afrah El-Qobba was a success because of a well written script, and a good director Mohamed Yassin. I don’t think it’s success is simply attributed to the name of Naguib Mahfouz and his novel on which it was based.”
This, in turn, spotlights how some producers of television series may depend on the novel’s title to attract audiences, betting on it to carry the show’s success.
This, El-Shennawy thinks, is also not guaranteed as a winning card.
“You are facing a population which doesn’t invest in reading much novels. Sadly, I don’t think the name of Ehsan Abdel Qudoos is what will make La Totfee Al-Shams series popular to people who haven’t watched it,” he says.
The critic added that in the past the name of the novelist was written on the film poster in the same font and size as the director. “Do you see this nowadays?” he asks, and answers his own question with “No.”
According to El-Shennawy, this points to a change in the audience, who is not the same as the audience of the past who would stop at the names of Naguib Mahfouz, Yousef Idris, Youssef El-Sabaey or other big names in literature.
In general, perhaps this is a positive change, or at least a chance to present new visions of good works of literature, in addition to presenting the names of novelists to the audience of television.
However, as El-Shennawy points out, it still all depends on the quality of the screen adaptation on its own, and that is the mission of series makers today.
This article was translated from it's Arabic version on Al-Ahram Arabic Gate.
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