Friday 15 December 2017

Rushdie's dense novel makes a tough film

Paul Whitington

Midnight's Children

(12A, general release, 146 minutes)

Director: Deepa Mehta Stars: Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Shabana Azmi, Charles Dance, Rajat Kapoor


Salman Rushdie's lugubrious presence looms heavily over this Indian adaptation of his most famous novel.

He spent two years adapting his book, is executive producer, provides a voiceover and seems to breathe heavily down the back of your neck, challenging you to approve.

For all its historical and cultural richness, Midnight's Children was always going to present stiff challenges for the filmmaker: how, for instance, do you render all that magic realism palatable, and what should be left out of Rushdie's hefty tome?

Not much, seems to have been the answer here, because Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children ploughs methodically through the novel's plot, blending the early years of Indian independence with the story of two unhappy families to sometimes bewildering effect. Two boys, Saleem and Shiva, are born on the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947, the exact moment that India became an independent republic. Saleem is the child of wealthy upper class parents, while Shiva is raised by a penniless street musician.

What neither boy knows is that they were swapped at birth by a well-meaning but misguided nurse. All of this comes to light when Saleem realises he has special powers, as do all the children born on the stroke of India's birth. Saleem can summon midnight's children by wiggling his nose, and their heated conferences mirror the nation's painful transition to democracy.

Midnight's Children is watchable enough, but the drama is constantly deadened by excessive, literal faithfulness to the book.

The story's heavy allegories and magic realism certainly don't help this film's cause.

Released on December 26

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