On Why Raag Darbari Should Be Translated To Film (And Why it won't be)

If you have not yet read Srilal Shukl's masterpiece, then I congratulate you, because you still have the option of reading one of the funniest books in Hindi (or in any language for that matter) of all time. In fact, it is easily available in English too on all major online book-sellers, and if bought at a Hindi book-store, it comes cheaper than any of the New Indian Fiction novels (while being a million times better than all of them put together).

Set in the fictional village of Shivpal Ganj and told mostly through the eyes of Ranganath, an MA student who is a sheheri and visits the village on vacation, the book is full of dark-humour as it exposes corruption in small societies and the evil side of basic human nature (while managing to make you laugh in every other line), it has often been compared to Catch-22, but I rate this book better, it is both funnier and bleaker.

And the Reasons that you should take the pains to read it almost coincide with the reasons that it would make an excellent film.


The main theme of the book is Village Politics, which is not concentrated only in the village Panchayat, but extends itself to the Village School, the village Government offices, and in fact encompasses the whole of the village. Srilal Shukl used this micro-view of things to comment on the Red Tapism, the corruption, the sycophancy and the in-general attitude of our nation as a whole.

And the treatment of the subject of the book makes it Timeless. It was written in the 60s, but if you read it even today, you will realize that nothing has changed whatsoever. Consider this, there is a 'Vaidya Ji' who holds no Government post, is not the Pradhaan, nor the Sarpanch, but is still the de-facto Head of the village, as he wields his proxy through a puppet front-man (sounds familiar?). The power is enforced by Dabangai of the local Pahalwans, the Principal of the college does not do his basic duty of providing education and is just another stooge of the Vaidya, the Educated man looks on as an outsider while the working class is literally crippled (represented here by a man known as 'Langad').

Yes, we agree, nothing has changed in the 50 years or so since the book was published. In fact we are inching ever closer to the dystopia portrayed here. The subject matter of this novel is literally age-less and thus the time is always ripe for a movie to be made on Raag Darbari.

The Need of Good Humour

Which was the last Good comedy film that you saw? And if you say the Housefull series by the many Sajids (directed by Sajid Khan, produced by Sajid Nadiadwala, Music by Sajid-Wajid) or the Rohit Shetty brand of movies, then please don't bother reading further.

It has been quite some time that a REAL comedy film has been made in India, some have come close in bits and pieces recently, but the lot of comedy movies has suffered in the past decade (except if you count Ra.One, that was one Hilarious attempt at movie making). As mentioned earlier, Raag Darbari is Too Damn Funny, and in a nation griping with ever-rising prices, higher costs of living, tougher jobs, madder rushes for everything, it would be good to have something genuinely funny to watch once in a while.

The only movies that reflect a bit of Raag Darbari in them off late have been Welcome to Sajjanpur and Peepli (Live), and although they were good films, they still had a lot of potential of being better. A movie on Raag Darbari (helmed by someone who has read the book a minimum of 20 times) would be more hard-hitting and would still have people rolling in the aisles.

Yet, 'Bollywood' would have enough reasons of not making a film out of this source material, the two of which chiefly would be

The Rustic Setting

Welcome To Sajjanpur was a successful film, but it did not exactly make even half the kind of money that a Salman Khan no-brainer these days makes. Perhaps the reason behind this is that the 'Urban Audience' (I have often wondered who they are, but they seem to have a huge say in everything) has had a change of taste. It would not like to watch a film based in a small village, although serials with a Rural setting are becoming increasingly popular on TV (which makes you wonder if it would be a better deal to serialize Raag Darbari).

Lagaan was a hit, in fact it might as well be the last 'village' film to attain the kind of success that it did, but Lagaan had the power (and marketing genius) of Aamir Khan behind it. The same director tried another village story with another Khan, and the movie flopped (although the fact that it was the slowest movie ever made in the world might have had something to do with it).

The audience of today might not like to watch the problems of a small village on screen (even if you include an item song by Katrina Kaif) and this is perhaps one of the reasons that no producer would touch the subject with a pole. What this book needs is the backing of someone like Ronnie Screwala and the understanding of Raju Hirani.

The Narrative Humour

One of the main problems that Catch-22 the film faced while measuring up to its book is that much of the humour was in the narration by the author, and Overhead narration is something that cannot be used continuously in a film, it would lose much of its humour and the charm.

Like Catch-22, Raag Darbari too depends a lot on the twist of the phrase by Srilal Shukl, it has witty dialogues (in fact all its dialogues are witty) but it's the narration that binds them together that provides the basis for the dark humour in this book. And translating it to a screen-play would be a very very exacting job.

Movies based on books (and even Hindi books) have been around from almost the time that the Indian film industry started, although this particular novel has been over looked (in part due to the reasons above), but it remains our wish that a true fan of Srilal Shukl ji's slim powerhouse novel comes forward and makes a great film out of it. We promise to be first in line to buy advance tickets for it.

PS : For Fans of Raag Darbari, here's a wish list of Actors who should Play Characters in the book 

Vaidya Ji

Well...every film should have him, shouldn't it

Ruppan Babu

This get-up is already perfect for the role

Badri Pahelwan

He can act well and is exactly a 'Pahelwan'

Chhote Pahelwan


Has the ability of playing the Sycophant well

Principal Sa'ab

Vinay Pathak hasn't often played a dark character, it would be interesting to see him in one


OR, Ayesh Takia, if you know what I mean

and Ranganath

Well..Why not...


{ Nima } at: May 30, 2012 at 8:58 AM said...

Is the English translation any good?

{ praveshsingh } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:00 AM said...

Star casting article jaisi awsm hai

{ Vaibhav Srivastav } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:02 AM said...

@Nima - I hope so

@Pravesh - Thanks :)

{ Anurag Singh } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:08 AM said...

Nahin banegi yaar :(

{ vakrachakshu } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:10 AM said...

Vaibhav babot Accha likhe ho ! And I really really liked the casting ! Too Good

{ Pushpendra Kumar } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:18 AM said...

badhiya article be!! bahut badhiya!!

{ flight uninterupted } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:23 AM said...

waah ustaad waah

{ SWAPNIL NARENDRA } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:51 AM said...

The reason I believe why movies like '..Sajjanpur' and 'Peepli LIVE' fail to make big money in small towns (besides people there not interested in those movies) is because in most of the small towns/villages, these movies are not shown when they are released. In fact in small towns all the movies are not shown when they are released.. it takes time for new movies to make their appearance in small towns because the theater owners there dont have that much money to pay the distributor for all these big (new) films.. besides.. a small time theater owner would not want to gamble his money on a movie like sajjanpur.. he will DEFINITELY go for a READY, or a BODYGUARD.. and he will DIE to get a RA.One... so as far as Anamdas ka Potha or Rag Darbari is supposed to be adapted into a film.. it wont work (commercially) unless it will have a huge roster of superstars in it.. (also.. a raunchy item number is a must)...

{ Manuj } at: May 30, 2012 at 10:03 AM said...

bahut achchha... bahute achchha !!

{ himanshu } at: May 30, 2012 at 10:48 AM said...

who will do 'langad' ?

{ Rustum } at: May 31, 2012 at 3:10 AM said...

Inspired and impressed by your review I just ordered this book from Flipkart :) eager to read..

{ Be } at: June 1, 2012 at 2:59 AM said...

Just read your article, much appreciated! Your article echos most of the thoughts I have about Raag Darbari, let's see how fast someone can make it into a film! I would like it to be me :) It's absolutely fantastic material :)

{ Siddharth Singh Shekhawat } at: September 12, 2012 at 1:04 PM said...

Perfect star cast,man!

{ Saras Tripathi } at: September 12, 2012 at 8:33 PM said...

I think Vishal Bharadwaj can do justice for screen-play and direction for a movie based on Raag Darbari

{ Vinod Jain } at: June 16, 2016 at 5:45 AM said...

is there any way to see TV serial based on this book. Plz help me or suggest me the link of Raag Darbaari. I will be thankful -
Vinod Jain - vinod.legend1@gmail.com

{ PRADEEP PANDEY } at: April 24, 2017 at 2:37 AM said...


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