Salman Rushdie's epic novel was published in 1981 but it was not until 2003, when I was on a holiday in India, that I read this ambitious and challenging work. It has taken until 2013 - ironically the same year as the film version of another Booker Prize novel with an Indian theme, "The Life Of Pi" - to reach the big screen. One can understand why, because the span of Rushie's book is enormous - so many characters and so many events over a period of 60 years - and the style is so special - his own version of magical realism - that it was clearly a huge and complicated task.
But it largely works. Obviously the film has to be more accessible and the material more manageable, but the cinematography (it was shot in Sri Lanka) and the music (the original score is Nitin Sawhney) are wonderfully atmospheric additions to the story. Immense credit must go to Rushdie himself who wrote the screenplay (as well as acting as narrator), since it cannot have been easy to simplify his own long (460 pages) and rich text, but the result is a film that is immensely faithful to both the narrative and the tone of the novel. Director Deepa Mehta - another Indian now living abroad (Canada) - has crafted a grandiose tale that is as far from Bollywood as Hollywood which means that sadly it will not have a huge audience in any continent.
Clearly the film has been made with a lot of reverence for the novel and the nation, but it lacks pace and heart. The children of the title are those born in the first 24 hours of India's independence at midnight on 17 August 1947 and Rushdie's fantastical invention is to give these children different special powers. As a film, so many characters and so much history means that there are no real stand-out performances (indeed some of the acting is weak) and the real star of the movie is India itself - an exotic charmer who promised so much and has disappointed so much.
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