Mumbai: Until recently, it seemed as though Deepa Mehta’s worst nightmare—the non-release of her latest project, Midnight’s Children, in the country in which the movie is set—had come true. There is some good news at last for the beleaguered film-maker: Midnight’s Children has been acquired by PVR Pictures and will be released in India before the end of the year.
Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures, says: “We’re looking at releasing the film in December. We’re yet to decide the release date.”
PVR Pictures has been talking to the movie’s international sales agent, FilmNation Entertainment, ever since it was optioned at the Asian Film Market last year, Gianchandani adds. “The film will be released and marketed like a big Indian Hollywood film,” he says. “Deepa Mehta will be here to support the film, and the local actors will also be involved with the marketing.”
PVR Pictures was one of three Indian distributors interested in bringing the screen adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s seminal 1980 novel to India, says producer David Hamilton. “We are very hopeful that the film will be released in India in the not-too-distant future,” says Hamilton, who has produced Mehta’s earlier movies, including the Elements trilogy—Fire, Earth and Water. “After all, the film has often been referred to as a love song to India.”
Midnight’s Children has been shown at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. It will be released in various parts of the world starting 2 November, including the US, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Its release in India has been shrouded in uncertainty not because of the book that inspired it, but the novel that came afterwards. The movie adaptation of one of the best examples of post-colonial literature has suffered because of The Satanic Verses, the publication of which in 1988 sparked protests by orthodox Muslims and Islamist groups around the world and invited a death sentence for Rushdie from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
Neither the charge of blasphemy, nor the fear of the sentence being carried out, has diminished with the passage of time. Like the late artist Maqbool Fida Husain, Rushdie has become a poster boy for the right to expression as well as a whipping boy for fundamentalists—which doesn’t help the cause of Midnight’s Children the movie. “Salman is the polarizing figure,” says an actor in the movie who didn’t wish to be identified. The row over the film “has to do with the Islamic lunatic fringe,” the actor says. “Unfortunately, in India, the theatrical release of a film doesn’t represent the end of the chain. The chain goes through the rabble-rousing insane section of the audience.”
On the record, of course, the movie business doesn’t have any issues with Midnight’s Children. “If the film gets a distributor and a censor certificate, we will have no problem showing it,” says Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer at Big Cinemas. There has been some talk of dropping Rushdie’s voice-over from the original cut for India, but the writer’s association with the production can’t be swept under the carpet. Rushdie has written the film with Mehta, and is one of the producers. Ironically, his association with the movie remains one of its major draws, given the lukewarm reviews that have emerged from the festival circuit.
Rushdie had previously adapted the novel for a five-part television series for British Broadcasting Corporation that was to have been shot in Sri Lanka. The production was shelved after protests by local Muslim groups. The novel did make it to the London stage in 2002 in an adaptation by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Rahul Bose was supposed to play the lead character, Saleem Sinai, in the BBC series. In an ironic turn of events, which is not unlike something that could have been imagined by Rushdie, the part is now played by Satya Bhabha, son of the renowned post-colonial studies scholar Homi K. Bhabha. Bose does appear in Mehta’s movie, but as Zulfikar, a Pakistani general who is married to Saleem Sinai’s aunt.
Ronit Roy, who plays the part of Saleem Sinai’s father, Ahmed Sinai, says Midnight’s Children needs to be seen in India since it’s “a beautiful film” and “poetry on celluloid”. Roy adds: “The book is out, so there are no surprises. Whether people like it or not is a different matter. Art should have no barriers.”