Born at the very stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, the day India threw off the shackles of British Colonialism
Born at the
very stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, the day India threw
off the shackles of British Colonialism and became an independent nation, two
boys’ fates are inextricably linked when their midwife deliberately swaps them
at birth, altering their destinies. Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha) grows up rich and privileged while Shiva (Siddharth) grows up poor and angry but
both boys are part of a group of super-powered individuals, Midnight’s Children, born in the hour
of India’s independence. As they
grow to maturity, their youthful country shares their growing pains and
“I AM VERY
PROUD OF THIS FILM.” SALMAN
RUSHDIE – boldly proclaim the posters for Midnight’s Children, Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s film of Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning 1981
novel. Based on a screenplay
adaptation by Rushdie. Narrated by
Rushdie. Who also executive
produced. Who knows? Maybe he did the catering too? When the only quote on your movie
poster comes from the writer/narrator/exec producer of the film based on his
own book, you would think that might set off a few alarm bells, that maybe
you’re about to unleash a two-and-a-half hour vanity trip on the audience.
It’s rarely, if ever, a good idea to allow an author to
adapt their own work for the screen.
It’s always going to be too faithful, too reverent, too literary. Let’s face it; if they couldn’t get the
novel down to under 600 pages, what’s the chances they’re going to give you a
two hour film? Never gonna
happen! But to then allow them to
fussily deliver one of the most intrusive, unengaging, uninformative
narration’s in film history is just asking for trouble. Salman Rushdie
may be many things but an actor isn’t one of them and his voiceover is unbearably
smug and unsubtle, consistently knocking the viewer out of the film.
Part of the problem is the screenplay, written by Salman
Rushdie, which tries to distill over 50 years of Indian history into the Zelig-like tale of three generations of
one family and begins in 1917.
Rushdie is blatantly no editor of his work and while there’s some
fantastic moments in the first third or so of the film (the shy Dr Aziz’s
courtship of his patient Naseem, conducted through a modesty-preserving blanket
that prevents the lovers from seeing one another’s faces, may be the best
sequence of the film) but the film lacks narrative drive and, if it’s the story
of Saleem and India, that’s a good two generations that could have been trimmed
from the front of the film. It’s
episodic, lumbering, lacks depth.
It rattles through independence and partition, civil war in Pakistan,
the formation of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi’s state of national emergency and
her genocidal pogroms against India’s poor (which according to Rushdie were due
to her persecution of India’s own vaguely defined, super powered X-Men). But it fails to hold the interest. And if you can’t make 50 years of such turbulent history and
people with super powers interesting, surely that’s not good? There are no characters to care about,
they’re merely avatars to illustrate Rushdie’s rather obvious and heavy-handed
political allegory and the performances are pretty lacklustre across the board
with only Seema Biswas as
nurse/nanny Mary and Rahul Bose’s
General Zia-like army officer Zulfikar making any kind of impression.
Far too faithful to the novel and almost impenetrable to
anyone who hasn’t read the book, Midnight’s
Children looks fantastic, so sumptuously, beautifully shot it’s practically
edible. But it’s ultimately
unsatisfying, an epic but ponderous self-indulgence of its author’s ego.