After almost a decade in the theatre circuit and the industry with films like Loot and Kabbadi Kabbadi under his belt, Saugat Malla finds himself squarely on the country’s radar. He is certainly capitalizing the moment with various projects but recently he graciously stepped away from the sets to talk about his other big interest – books. Priyanka Gurung caught up with the actor to know more about his love for reading.
So if you had to choose between books and movies, would it be hard for you to pick one?
Actually I’d go for books. I don’t watch many movies, to be honest. Often they are only a select few and whenever I do, it is to check out other directors, actors, and cinematographer’s body of work. I can’t help but get technical whenever I watch movies. I automatically start comparing and contrasting so in a way going for movies still feels like work. It is work I immensely enjoy but it feels nice to take a breather from it all. And books never fail me in that respect.
Would you go a step further and even say that books are better than movies?
If I were to be honest, I think the moment you decide to turn a story into a film you instantly put limitations on it. I imagine writers don’t have to worry about such things. The readers are allowed to take a novel to whatever heights they wish to take it to. I particularly enjoy this bit while reading. You can let your imagination run loose. As the plot unfolds you can picture the characters, the setting, the expressions and so on. But with movies you have to take what you are given. In this regard, I believe books are better.
Further, if we were to compare, I think that books have more variety and flavor to deliver in terms of stories and characters. Sometimes, for me personally, watching movies is a little dissatisfying because they tend to be very similar to one another in terms of the plots or the look of the characters. There is a formula, to a certain extent. So there are indeed days where books are better.
I imagine you are against movie adaptations of books then?
Not really, a good story is a good story. I bet everybody can see why it is tempting to turn certain novels into movies. In fact, at the moment, I am working on a similar project. I can’t reveal any details but the movie is being adapted from a book. The question is: Can we do justice to it? I, along with our team, naturally feel the responsibility.
Also the fact is it’s rare that a movie adaptation is as good as the book. It is very rare indeed. For example, Mario Puzo’s Godfather was a good one but on the flipside, Slumdog Millionaire comes to mind. I had read the book way before its release and I was blown away by the story. I even remember rereading it because it was just that good. However, I could only watch about 20-25 minutes of the movie because comparatively it was rubbish. They had missed out the essence of the book. Then it won an Oscar. I was so shocked that I gave the movie another try. My first reaction was right though. I still believe the book is better.
Do you remember how your love for reading began?
It began with comics. I have a collection of comics to this day. I was never into course books because even as a child I didn’t want an office job. When I discovered comics obviously I was hooked. To a certain extent, it even fueled my desire to be a character. I loved the ‘frame to frame’ scenes, reading the dialogues in different voices, studying the expressions – it was all so much fun. But as you grow up, comics obviously aren’t enough so I naturally graduated to books.
Are you biased towards a particular genre?
I have grown up reading different genres though most in Hindi translations. Growing up in the Tarai region, it was very easy for us to cross the borders and have access to all these popular books. Even though there were none in Nepali, a Hindi translation was very easy to find. I have grown up reading different genres. However, I have to say I am not the biggest fan of romantic novels. The rosy stories and scenarios for some reason don’t fit right with me. Perhaps I like the melancholic tales a little too much. But overall, I don’t stick to a particular genre. The ten years I spent around the theatre circuit was really the prime time for my reading habit. I had the time and people like Sunil Pokharel from Gurukul who encouraged me to explore new writers. Books from those days make the most of my collection and I am very fond of this library. It is one of the things I have amassed since coming to Kathmandu.
Which are some of books you really enjoyed reading?
I’m terrible at remembering book titles and authors. After finishing a book often all I take with me is a feeling. I associate that with the various books I have read. I may forget the character names and even some of the scenes in between but the experience of reading it and the emotions I went through are always very vivid. Most of the times, that is all that’s left after I shelve a book.
1984 by George Orwell
George Orwell was prophetic with this book. This is a version of the ‘big brother’ world we live in, only a lot more nightmarish. Orwell creates this imaginary world that is so completely convincing that I actually became a little paranoid for a couple of days. I think this speaks a lot about the power of the book.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
This is one of the books that I began reading when I was at Gurukul. This is an incredible portrayal of life. It is an account of just how unpredictable and absurd it can be. Here an ordinary man is unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach. I had read the Nepali interpretation of this book and it was brilliant.
Four Plays by Anton Chekov
It took me years to finally find this book. I wanted a good translation and I actually had to go to Delhi to get one. This is a collection of new, production-tested translations of the four great plays by Anton Chekhov: The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard. They are simply poetic.
Parinde by Nirmal Verma
I grew up reading Verma. He has helped write successful Hindi translations of several books as well as published his own stories. There is amazing fluidity in his language. That’s why I keep buying his work. It’s always worth a read.
Jaar by Indra Bahadur Rai
I believe Indra Bahadur Rai is one of the best storytellers in our country. He just has a way of capturing the essence of being a Nepali. There are other more popular works of his but I choose Jaar because it has been a little underestimated.