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A still from ‘Midnight’s Children’
A still from ‘Midnight’s Children’

Film Review | Midnight’s Children

Lost in broad strokes and proverbial Indian exotica, Deepa Mehta's 'Midnight's Children' urges us to revisit the book

History in a hurry

Independence, Partition, Emergency, the bloodbath and injustice in their wake, and the human vicissitudes in this span ‘pre-1947 to the 1970s’ totalling these grinders of history—Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children, the screenplay and original book written by Salman Rushdie, is a staggering story to film.

Mehta’s ambition is unfettered, and she goes for the broad sweep. Rushdie’s contribution as screenplay writer and omniscient narrator helps, but only marginally. The film almost runs like a documentary of the story, poignant in patches, but those patches never conjure up a compelling and cohesive narrative. For the unacquainted, the underpinnings of history crucial to the story will make little sense.

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The narration by Rushdie is, at best, nice. His voice lends the film an authoritative air but as it progresses, decade after decade, it is clear that for the author too, writing this screenplay and playing the sutradhar is an act of revisiting the best of himself. The ardent language and voice is Rushdie paying a tribute to Rushdie.

Mehta’s contribution to the film is the visual interpretation, and fulfilling the curiosity of those who’ve read the book about what makes it into the film and what doesn’t. Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography speaks the language of proverbial Indian exotica. Some of the sequences are gorgeous, but the interest wanes quickly because these are warm-hued, densely populated frames you have seen in many movies about India. The scenes involving the children who exist in young Saleem’s hallucinatory world are tacky, resembling dreams in a B-grade potboiler.

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In the late 1980s, after reading Rushdie’s book, auteur Satyajit Ray had famously said, “It would be unfilmable in the sense that it would have to be simplified so much it would not be itself." Rushdie, an admirer of Ray, had approached the film-maker to direct one of the numerous attempts to translate the book on to screen, as a six-part TV series. But Ray declined because, as he said in the same interview, “It has so much of the current, so much of contemporary politics." Mehta’s interpretation takes the illustrious Midnight’s Children legacy a bit forward, but does not make us see Saleem Sinai’s world in an unforgettable way, shattering our own imaginings of this busy and dense world. Her Midnight’s Children is worth a watch because, besides a few episodic sparkles, it urges us to revisit the book, and find the sweat and specks of Rushdie’s narrative.

Midnight’s Children released in theatres on Friday.

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