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A cautionary tale of what not to do when adapting a long novel
As I sat through the final gala event of the Indian film festival in Los Angeles, I witness a sea of NRI theatrics to promote and celebrate there film communities beloved cinematic achievements. It is there night to celebrate two of finest exports of not so artistically talented community of Indian Americans in North America. 'Midnight's children' is the movie they are trying to celebrate today. I am saying trying because unfortunate as it may be this one has turned out to be cold turkey.
Based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Salman Rushdie the movie version is staunchly conservative as it decidedly sticks honest with the book's narrative. May be Mr. Rushdie did not wish to tinker anything to his beloved book and he is entitled to do whatever he wishes to with its film version. Unfortunately for the audience, Mr. Rushdie along with Miss Deepa Mehta has served something that is too much to consume in approximately two and half hour of the films running time. The movie has a life trajectory beginning with main character Salim's grandfather's love story in British India Kashmir in 1917 and ends in Independent India's Mumbai in the seventies with Salim's young son. In between the movie is a mess of character's coming in and out of the movie with break neck speed.
The film is fable and a tribute to the Nehruvian (Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's style of politics) India's broken secular promises. Salim is a boy born at the stroke of midnight of India's Independence from British occupation. He is supposed to be the son of Indian Muslim family but is actually the son of a local Mumbai street singer who had affair with a British gentleman during his empire's final days. The street singer dies during child birth. The hospital nurse Mary, because of her social beliefs regarding the nation's so called Independence, decides to switch the newborn son of the poor street singer to the rich born kid of a Muslim couple.
The destinies of the two new born are not only entangled by the switch but also with the gift that they possess along with every other children who are born on the stroke of midnight with a new born nation with promises of its richly diverse population.
Each of those new born children are metaphor for the nation's promises of what it can achieve if those natural gifts are used effectively for better means. They all possess different powers with Salim being able to telepathically communicate with each one of the Midnight's Children. While the couple's real kid who ends up with the husband of the street singer is named Shiva who possesses the powerful destructive powers, while Parvati is a magician who is destined to be Salim's soul mate. Salim's destiny is forever bonded with the nation of his birth and hence we are taken to a journey through modern Indian history.
The source material for the film is a literary classic, so there is no doubt that Miss Mehta has been brought down by the wait of expectations. She gave no space for any character development and the second rate cast does not do any favor to the films flow. Unfortunately, the worst of the lot is the main lead Satya Babha who plays the grown up Salim. A small actor in American sitcom, Satya did not have any facial expression or emotions that could light up even the most well written scenes. He fails to carry the film on his shoulders and makes it a stretch for the audience to continue with the film. The only noteworthy and perfect though stereotypical performance is Seema Biswas's Miss Mary.
Some of the best parts of the novel is the Bangladesh war and Indira Gandhi's emergency days. Unfortunately in the movie version no sense of history is evoked during those sequences and to those who may have very scant knowledge of those events may remain disillusioned.
Miss Mehta mentioned during her introductory speech; how Mr. Rushdie got annoyed when some audience member at Toronto film festival compared the film with Forrest Gump. Even I would be annoyed. Forrest Gump maintained a smooth flow even with its long generational trajectory and allowed character development by concentrating on only the main character rather than his entire family tree. But Midnight's Children ends up becoming a fast paced narration of the novel that deserved a better movie version.
Mr. Rushdie and Miss Mehta spoiled a perfect opportunity to create a memorable journey through modern Indian history and placed this cobbled screen adaption as footnote in their respective careers.
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