Film Education

Cinema and Literature: “The Tin Drum”

“THE TIN DRUM” : A Comparision between the Novel(1959) by Guntar Grass and the Film(1979) by Volker Schlondorff

Bergman believed that cinema should be independent of literature. However, more often than not, literature has inspired films and some of them have turned out to be great films indeed. One such film is ‘The Tin Drum’ (Die Blechtrommel), a German language film made by Volker Schlöndorff in 1979. It is based on nobel prize winner Gunter Grass’s novel of the same name.  Grass’s work was a pioneer in European magical realism, was widely read and translated into many languages. Hence, the prospect of adapting it to celluloid was a very challenging one. It is generally agreed that Volker had succeeded in justifying the text and his film is a marvel on its own.  It received Palme d’Or at Cannes(jointly with ‘Apocalypse Now’) in 1979. I would like to present a comparative study between the book and the film, highlighting the major differences between them:

1)      The novel in three parts traces a period starting from before the rise of Hitler to after his fall and the reconstruction of Germany. The major events however take place not in Germany, but in Danzig which geographically lies between Germany and Poland and has often been shuffled from being a free state to being under the German or the Polish rule. This is the focus for the first 2 parts. However, in the 3rd part of the novel, the focus shifts to Dusseldorf in Germany and reflects the problems Grass himself faced due to the displacement and his inability to adapt to postwar Germany.

The movie on the other hand restricts itself to the first 2 parts of the book and concerns itself with the rise and fall of Nazism on Danzig. It successfully maintains an ambience of black humor that is a characteristic of the book.

2)      The book starts with 30 year old Oskar in a mental asylum, narrating the story of his life.  For a major part of the novel, Oskar himself is the narrator. However, in the 3rd part, the onus of narration shifts to the warden and a friend of Oskar’s. Through these passages narrated by others, Grass has hinted that the protagonist could be an unreliable narrator, thereby playing with our perception. This aspect of the novel has been generally understood as a metaphor for the inherent indeterminacy of the period of Hitler’s Nazi reign. Moreover, if we consider Oskar’s unreliability, it could challenge the very premise of magical realism. This sort of a literary experimentation adds to the credibility of the novel apart from its importance as an allegory.

In the film however, this unreliability of narration is omitted along with the 3rd part of the book. It also begins with the narration of Oskar, but the director deliberately eludes the part of the asylum. The omission of the 3rd part of the book in the movie is an apt choice in my opinion, since the premise of the film is the chronicle of Danzig and a satire on Nazism. The depiction of Oskar as an unreliable narrator would have diverted the theme of the movie to a large extent.

3)      Oskar’s drums and his drumming action come across as a unspoken language of protest. Apart from this, they serve a few important purposes in the novel. Firstly they act as a chronicle of his life and events surrounding him. In the book, it is mentioned that, all the old broken drums are stored in the cellar of their house, each with a number label. A diary is maintained in the cellar which records the life span of each of them, i.e the time during which they were functional. In his narrative, Oskar often mentions drumming up past events. Therefore his drumming also acts as a reconstruction of people and events that have gone by. Secondly, his drum is a means to induce chaos in order. The Nazi party gatherings at the rostrums are disrupted by his incessant drum beating. He makes them dance to his rhythm, thereby breaking down the orderliness of the Nazis.

The first utility of the drum is not present in the movie. However the other aspect of the drum is brilliantly translated to celluloid. The sequence of Oskar hiding under the rostrum, playing his drum from there, the crowd and even the leaders drifting into a waltz in spite of themselves, is one of the most memorable sequences in the movie. This phenomenon of relapsing into disorderliness, or rather a higher order consisting of waltz rhythm is a satirical reference to the imposed artificiality of the Nazi regime under Hitler, which is easily broken down through human instinct.

4)      Oskar’s abilities with his voice are the most significant elements of magical realism in the novel. According to the book, Oskar’s voice is capable of generating two types of sounds, one a high pitched scream that can shatter glass, another an inaudible frequency with which, he can silently cut through glass. We need to look at the two of them separately. The incidents of shattering glass come across as expressions of fury, and happen whenever Oskar gives vent to his anger.  The silent glass-cutting voice and its consequences on the other hand, serve to symbolize an important aspect of history known as ‘Kristallnacht’. In the book, Oskar describes that during winter, at the dead of the night, he would sneak out and use his inaudible voice to make circular incisions in shop windows and then use the power of his voice to topple the incised portions. These shops would contain tempting materials such as jewelry or thick fur coats(tempting for someone who is freezing on a winter night) etc. He would wait in the dark and observe the passers-by, most of who would be tempted to take them away. He called this game ‘playing the tempter’.  This activity resulted in broken glass windows.   ‘Kristallnacht’, also referred to as the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, or ‘Reichskristallnacht’, was a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary and civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The attacks left the streets covered with broken glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues, thereby earning such a name.

In the movie however, Oskar can mostly scream and shatter glass. The events of Oskar playing the tempter are not present; hence the metaphor of ‘Kristallnacht’ is also lost. However, the actual events of ‘Kristallnacht’ are illustrated through the example of Sisigmund Markus and his toy shop.

The events of shattering glass are portrayed diligently and their relation with Oskar’s rage is commendably elucidated.

5)      The phenomenon of Oskar’s remaining physically stunted during the Nazi reign and accidentally induced into an unnatural growth phase after the end of Nazi reign is, according to me, a metaphor for the oppression of the non-Germans in Danzig during the Nazi rule and the half-hearted reconstruction of Germany in the postwar period, from the perspective of the book. In general, Oskar’s magical powers, his sexual prowess and his adulthood in an apparently child-like outward appearance are a metaphor for the hidden horrors of the Nazi regime. According to the 3rd part of the book, he looses his powers and even his potency, after he starts growing. This could very well symbolize the downfall of the Third Reich and the plight of postwar Germany.

However, since the movie ends with part 2 of the book, the problems of New Germany do not come into its context. From the perspective of the movie, the metaphor of stunted growth will have the same implication as in the novel. However, the phenomenon of Oscar growing up can have only one interpretation (since the problems of that growth phase are not touched upon in the movie), the liberation of Danzig and the downfall of Nazi party. The metaphor for the horrors of Nazi regime would also apply here.

6)      Finally, I would like to point out one improvement in the movie as compared to the book, based on my observations. Regarding the incident of the eels, in the novel, Agnes refuses to eat the eels and Alfred throws them in the dustbin to console her. In the movie however, Jan and Alfred persuade her to eat the eels. Agnes’s consequent fetish for eating fish that ultimately results in her untimely demise is thus better reasoned in the movie than in the book

This is not an exhaustive list of differences between the novel and the film. However, we must accept the film as an independent work of art and appreciate it from that standpoint. Whenever a novel is adapted into a film, the director’s interpretation of the narrative makes certain deviations or omissions necessary. However, the most important aspect for such a film is to capture the core spirit of the book. In this regard, Volker Schlöndorff has shone brightly, making this movie a part of the timeless world classics.


The Author was invited by me to write this post

About the Author Riddhiman Basu: 

A software engineer by profession, yet an individual with varied passions. Literature and Music have been his passions since childhood. He has had formal training in Indian Classical music as well as Rabindrasangeet. Cinema as a passion came later, but soon caught up with the others. Starting with the likes of Ray and Ghatak, he has now moved on to the arena of world cinema.

References for the Article:





A Real Story of a conflict between A Super Star Actor- Rajesh Khanna and Cheten Anand a Super Star Director


A Real Story of a conflict between A Super Star Actor- Rajesh Khanna and Cheten Anand a Super Star Director

Musing of a Veteran Producer/ Director – Sorab Irani  .

So much is said about Rajesh Khanna post his sad demise in all media, I am reminded on this occasion of a interesting real life story which I would like to share.

A little known fact is that Chetan Anand’s debut film,Neecha Nagar bagged the Palme d’Ore (Best Film) award, at the first ever Cannes Film Festival in 1946.

It was my honor and privilege to have worked and observed and to have learned so much about cinema from this great truly Indian cinematic genius

Chetan Anand was the first director to cast Rajaesh Khann is his film ‘Aakhri Khat’. Latter when his career started flagging a bit, Rajesh Khanna thought he needed a great director to make a film with him and he approached Chetan Anand. I was at that time general manager of Chetan Anand’s production company – Himalaya Films. In those days films were produced largely on star-power, and if a project was initiated by a Star it was good news. However Chetan Anand was in financial trouble and in a meeting with Rajesh Khanna confessed to him that he had the right subject but no money. Chetan Anand always had ready stories in his head, he thrived on the creative process that resulted in a film idea and at any given time had a great oeuvre of film stories. In that meeting where I was also present he narrated the story of ‘Kudrat’ to Rajesh Khanna and Rajesh Khanna loved it.

In a week’s time Rajesh Khann was back at Chetan sahibs Juhu seafront shack with a producer in tow one B. S. Khanna. It was all settled in that sitting that B. S would finance and produce the film and that Chetan Anand would direct the film and so the film ‘Kudrat’ was born.

This is not the story of how ‘Kudrat’ was made, which in itself is fascinating but about the antics of stars and a conflict that developed pre release of the film between Chetan Anand and Rajesh Khanna.

The film was very hot, the music was already a super hit. It then transpired that Kakaji arranged for a private screening of the film and decided on a course of action which was unethical for sure but not entirely unheard of in the Bollywood of that time. Encouraged by his chamchas he decided that in order to hog the entire credit of the success of the film he had to reduce the roles of the others like Vinod Khanna, Raj Kumar, he high jacked the editor of the film, and started reediting the film. The editor informed Chetan Anand quietly as his conscious troubled him, he was in great awe of Chetan sahib and had worked together for over a year to shape the film.

I got a call from a very distressed Chetan sahib at 6 am in the morning asking me to go to the editor’s house and bring him over to meet Chetan sahib. I was also very amazed that any one dare tamper with the edit of a director like Chetan Anand. By 7.30 am I was at the editors house in Matunga but he was absconding. I went to the shack and Chetan was furious. Kaka would not taking his calls nor was  the producer B. S. Khanna, the conspiracy was clearly unfolding. What do we do. I went with Chetan sahib to Navarang Lab, spoke to the owner protesting but the owner claimed helplessness as he had to follow the instructions of the Producer of the project owing to the large sums of money involved. We then decided to file complaints with the Film Editor’s association and with the Film Producers association requesting this be stopped. In the night I started getting threatening calls. Some one called my wife and told her that she would find my dead body by morning. I was out and there were no cell phones at that time, so when I called home my wife was weeping and scared silly. Now I was indeed very angry and being in Juhu at the time went to B. S Khanna’s house to confront him, he was not home but I got him on the phone from there and asked him about all this nonsense about threatening calls to my wife and told him very plainly that I was not one bit intimidated and if it did not stop I would lodge a police complain. Later I spoke to Chetan sahib and he too complained that he had a similar experience of his residence getting threatening calls.

The next day the producer B. S Khanna claimed total innocence about all the goings on and said nothing was true, we demanded that we need to be allowed to examine the final cut negative and talk to the editor and informed him that no one had a right to make changes to the final cut of the film. He diplomatically said it was too late, the negative was involved in the process at the lab of making copies of the release prints.

Gloom set in at the shack, it seemed that the Rajesh Khanna camp in connivance with the producer B. S Khanna have prevailed.

In an unprecedented move Chetan Anand decided to go to the Bombay High Court to stop the release of his own film.

The case came up before the astute Parsi judge Justice Lantern. The whole film industry was there. Justice Lantern denied us the relief that we were seeking although sympathizing with our case but saying that huge sums of money would be lost of the third parties namely the distributors if he granted us the ad interim relief and posted the matter for regular hearing.

The real point of this story is not to malign anybody but to raise critical questions – who has the right to the final cut of the film, the director or the producer. Who decides what the audiences will see, financiers/producers or the creators the/directors. Added to this perennial existing conflict and tussle enter today the marketing guru’s who with sampling and consensus building marketing methods start confusing matters completely. What happens to an Auteur director if he is not also the producer of the film. Food for thought and meaningful debate.


Written on Special Invitation

“FROM AAN TO LAGAAN AND BEYOND”: An Exclusive Interview with the Author of the Book Moti Gokulsingh by Oorvazi Irani

“From Aan to Lagaan is a unique critical guide to one of the greatest dream-factories in the world. It is the first time that a compilation has avoided the shame of hagiography and the obscurity of pretentious academia.” – Farrukh Dhondy 


From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond : a guide to the study of Indian cinema by K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake

Published by Trentham Books


Exclusive Email interview with  Moti Gokulsing, Author of the recently published book.

About the Author

K. Moti Gokulsing is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of East London. He co-          edits the journal South Asian Popular Culture and is the author of the acclaimed Indian Popular Cinema, also published by Trentham.

Wimal Dissanayake is Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Centre, Hawaii and founding editor of the East-West Film Journal.

It is an honour and pleasure to be part of this book in my humble efforts involving in the research and my extensive interview with Govind Nihalini which is an integral part of the book – Chapter One ‘From Vision to Screen Reality’

      What is the need for such a book ?

This is a study guide and is aimed at helping the increasing number of students many of whom are of non-Indian origins understand the complex relationship between Indian culture and Indian cinema

2)     What are the concerns the book addresses ?

While Indian cinema is taught in many institutions as part of Media Studies/ World cinema/ South Asian studies, the Study Guide makes a case for it to be taught as part of a Film Studies approach. As such, it introduces students to the variety of concepts andtheories relevant to a Film Studies approach. One its strengths is the interview which Oorvazi Irani conducted with the internationally known filmmaker Govind Nihalani . Having done both Popular and Parallel cinema , he identified some of the reasons why theyare different and why the vast majority of popular films fail at the box office-an issue which has been rarely addressed

3)     Could you share with us your beginnings and background as a writer and academic ?

As an academic teaching in a Department of Teacher Training and Education , my publications focused on teaching and university issues. At a conference at SOAS some years ago, I met Professor Wimal Dissanayake. At that time I wanted to introduce my 2 daughters to Indian cinema and as there was scant literature available , Wimal and I decided to write a book-Indian Popular Cinema-A narrative of cultural change which became a bestseller

4)      What have been the challenges and Joy of writing this book

Coming as I do from Mauritius where success in education was measured by how much French you knew, I had very little knowledge of Indian history and culture. This was a formidable challenge and I still have much to learn

5)   Which are your  favourite Indian films ?

My favourite films relate mainly to early ones such as Garam Hawa andSholay and Rang De Basanti of recent ones

6)    Is there a memory of the first Indian film you saw ?

The first Indian film I saw was Bandhan with Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis

7)   Who is your favorite Bollywood actor and  actress   

Favourite actor-the early Amitabh Bachchan  and actress Nargis

8)     Where do you think Indian cinema stands today ?

The much maligned Indian Popular cinema has moved from the periphery to the centre of world cinema. Its choreography and technical innovations are outstanding.

9)      What is the role that Indian cinema plays in the International cinema market today ?

Indian cinema is trying to meet a variety of goals: catering for the indigenous population, the increasing young population as well as the   increasing middle classes

10)   What is the impact of Indian cinema ?

Internationally, the diasporic Indian film makers and the diasporic audience will continue to boost post Bollywood

Indian cinema opens up a window onto the wider world . By watching Indian films and exploring them sensitively, we can attain a deeper understanding of Indian culture and values.

For me one of the most endearing aspects of Indian cinema is its captivating music.

The Book Details:

From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond : a guide to the study of Indian cinema 

This authoritative and accessible guide is written especially to help students understand the complexities and intricacies of Indian cinema. It covers the vast range of the cinemas of India plus the meteoric rise of Bollywood, and discusses the key theoretical approaches to the analysis of films, the cinema audience and audience segmentation.

The book describes how an Indian movie is made and explains the technology entailed. All the major issues are discussed: the relationship between cast and crew, the contributions of playback singers, designers and choreographers. It offers original information on the impact of the corporatisation of the film industry and on censorship, taxation, insurance and advertising.

The fascinating case studies of filmic analysis illuminate the different theoretical approaches and concepts students need for analysing Indian film appropriately. And teachers will find that the comprehensive coverage, extensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading, the discussion of pedagogical issues about the teaching of Indian cinema and the sample questions make it an indispensible resource for teaching Indian cinema.

1. From Vision to Screen Reality
– The film making process
– The role of technology
– How an Indian movie is made
– Cast and crew

2. Theoretical approaches to the study of Indian cinema and its audience
– An introduction to some of the major theoretical approaches to the study of Indian cinema
– Audience/spectator studies and audience segmentation

3. When Bollywood goes to war – Bollywood’s contribution to nation building
– The contributions of Indian cinema to nation building
– An introduction to some of the most important nationalist and patriotic themes in Indian cinema

4. A Passage out of India
– Diasporic Indian filmmakers’ contributions to Indian Cinema

5. Iconic directors, composers, lyricists, playback singers, choreographers and designers
– From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond

6. From Theory to Practice
– Case studies of filmic analysis using some of the theoretical approaches discussed in Chapter 2
– How to study Indian cinema – some pedagogical considerations

7. Exporting filmic culture
– The corporatisation of the film industry/Insurance/the role of advertising and marketing

8. The Price of Globalisation

– The government strikes back: taxation, censorship and film classification

My Top Twenty Films – Oorvazi Irani

Films are like an ocean and one list cannot contain them. But the following is a list of some of the films that touched me

Top Twenty Films

Oorvazi Irani

  1. The Apu Trilogy – Satyajit Ray

Pather Panchali” (Song of the Little Road) 1955   – Aparajito   (The Unvanquished) 1956 – Apu Sansar (Apu’s World) 1959

I shared in the joy and sorrow of Apu and his family and they live on with me, it’s a world that I experienced – ‘tender’  ‘sensitive’  ‘real’ and most importantly ‘truthful’. Durga, Apu’s sister  from “Pather Panchali” still haunts me – her free spirit not willing to be killed with physical death .

2. La Strada (“The Road”) 1954 – Federico Fellini

Giulietta Masina was the Epitome of Innocence  and the music by Nino Rota transformed me to the circus of the soul. The film in its first viewing did not move me but when I saw it for the second time I could not resist its power that overtook me.

3. Persona (1966) – Ingmar Bergman

B&W photography that mesmerized besides Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann’s rivetting performance. My first introduction to Bergman and I was hooked.

4. Eight and a Half (1963) – Federico Fellini


Uniquely Personal  Surreal world that is fresh till today. A uniqueness which as an auteur challenges me.

5. In The Mood for Love (2000) – Wong Kar Wai


Infidelity dealt with such sensitivity and tenderness it hurts. The music of  the film brings alive the melancholy of the director’s style and makes my heart weep but not with tears of sentimentality but a deeper experience of art than a raw emotion.

6. Ladri di biciclette (“Bicycle Thieves”) (1948) – Vittorio De Sica


A Neo Realist Classic !

Every time I see it there is a new discovery, a new detail , something I missed – from the play of light to the junior artists in the frame, Children can surpass adults as actors and this young child Bruno played by Enzo Staiola gives a memorable performance that adds the warmth to this cold bitter backdrop of  post  world war II Italy. A film that has been a huge inspiration for filmmakers right from Satyajit Ray to Anurag Kashyap.

7. Les quatre cents coups (“400 Blows”) (1959) – François Truffaut

The personal becomes art and how. The Antoine series ( 4 other films by Truffaut with the same actor  Jean-Pierre Léaud ) by Truffaut is one of its kind where the actor and character merge and filmic reality takes on another dimension. The two worlds of the reel and the real merging was very interesting for me personally to experience as an artist and audience.

8. Mirror (1975) – Andrei Tarkovsky


Seeing a film by this director needs you to be ready and attentive not tired from a long day with the medium of film to entertain. This director’s art is sacred and needs to be experienced like prayer with patience and total surrender. Deeply rewarding to be patient is my experience with this director.

9. Rashomon(195o) – Akira Kurosawa


An Auteur who is troubled by the dark side of human nature  and uses the medium of film to express his pain and share his insights.  The film journey’s into the dark forest exploring an unconventional narrative structure that takes the world by storm. The film was not a mere story but a philosophical exploration and that was the feeling that the film left me with wanting to explore as an artist, somewhere in my subconscious it connected.

10. Jules et Jim  (“Jules and Jim”) (1962) – François Truffaut

The character of Catherine played by the talented actress Jeanne Moreau fascinates me, not that I identify with her but the magic of her lives on. The spirit of freedom of the French New Wave is all over the film. And the cinematic treatment made me enjoy the characters and the story in a detached fashion not making me part of the narrative but like an observer. This is not to say that the emotions or actors were not powerful but the treatment was non classical  and did not allow you to slip into the indulgence of emotion.

11. Charulata (“The Lonely Wife”) (1964)– Satyajit Ray

A film adaptation from Rabindranath Tagore’s novelette “The Broken Nest” that is not limited to but surpasses an adaptation and stands alone as a masterpiece where Charulata, here is the hero of the film. I seem to identify with Charulata’s spirit and the scene on the swing is memorable when the camera merges and becomes one with the character and the audience experiences the world from her viewpoint.

12. Salaam Bombay (1988) – Mira Nair

What excited me about the film was the realistic character details and nuances along with the story. Realism that was fresh in India and spoke a million words. Most of the young actors who appeared in Salaam Bombay! were actual street children and much earlier than the recent “Slumdog Millionaire”. The film won the Audience Cannes Film Festival award in 1988.

13. The Apple (1998) – Samira Makhmalbaf

Real life and Fiction merge and each help to reveal the other. A critically acclaimed Iranian film  by a young woman director made at the age of 17 years is special to my heart and my representation of Iranian cinema.

14. MughalEAzam (“The Greatest of the Mughals”) (1960) – K. Asif

The sheer poetry of the dialogues and the beauty of Madhubala made me a fan of the film. Before I

saw the film I was not sure if I would like it, if it would seem dated but I was taken by surprise and loved it.  That the director wanted the classical arts part of his mainstream film and went to the extent of offering Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan fees of Rs 25,000 per song when the running rate was Rs 300 speaks of his respect for the artist. (Ustad  was trying to get rid of Asif by  demanding  such an exorbitant price  but it could not deter the director’s desire for including high art in his love epic  film)

15. Taxi Driver (1976)– Martin Scorsese


Noir in colour with Robert De Nero taking you to the depth of loneliness in the back alleys of America with an end that is unforgettable  jazz. The silent scream, that’s what the film is like, which is violent yet not raw.

16. Det sjunde inseglet (“Seventh Seal”) (1957) – Ingmar Bergman

Death can be a character beyond ‘ Yamaraj’  is what the film powerfully revealed to me.

Death personified and a powerful cinematic moment of ‘ the dance of death’ so simply and spontaneously brought to life and remain unchallenged in time and an inspiration for many filmmakers to strive for including myself

17. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick says the film is, ” basically a visual, nonverbal experience”

The language of silence and the drama of the beginning chords of music(from Richard Strauss’s classical piece) stand witness to a landmark film about the journey of man from the primal to the space age …imagery from the mysterious monolith to the fascinating star child floating in space are iconic. I experienced fear very deeply as an emotion when a character in the film is lost in space, that silence for those few seconds was like forever and very powerful for me where the filmmaker went beyond a mere narrative but tapped into something beyond.

18. La vita è bella (“Life is Beautiful”) (1997) – Roberto Benigni

The heights of tragedy can be reached with comedy and such depth is experienced with this film where the story of the Nazi concentration camp is told yet again, but how, is what makes all the difference.  The film was a moving experience.

19. Meghe Dhaka Tara (“The Cloud Capped Star”) (1960)– Ritwik Ghatak


Melodrama in its poetic form where suffering takes on an epic scale and goes beyond the human to  mythic dimensions.  Nita’ s last cry for life in the hills  perfectly brought to a climax by the actress Supriya Choudhury  is still echoing in my subconscious.

20. Easy Rider  (1969)– Dennis Hopper

One of the pioneering films of the Hollywood new wave, breaking the rules and opening up new horizons with a spirit that wants to be free and unbound. To me there was a kind of purity of experience shared, feeling of un adulteration in the film as its shot and presented.