Film: Midnight’s Children
Director: Deep Mehta
Cast: Satya Bhabha, Shriya Saran, Siddharth Narayan, Rahul Bose, Rajat Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Shahana Goswami, Ronit Roy
Adapting a 600-page long novel—with over 1,000 characters, almost as many sub-plots, and, to top it all, a bit of magical realism—into a 148-minute long film is not an easy task. The fact that it was penned by one of the most gifted writers of our time, Salman Rushdie, makes it ever more difficult. Although Deepa Mehta roped in the author to script the cinematic version of his twice Booker of Bookers prize-winning Midnight’s Children, Rushdie is unable to recreate the magic that made his book remain a bestseller for over 30 years.
The film, which is narrated by its protagonist, Saleem Sinai, opens in Kashmir of 1917, with the love story of his grandparents—the young foreign-educated Dr Adam Azeez (Rajat Kapoor) and his beautiful patient Naseem. Some of the film’s most endearing scenes happen in these first 10 minutes. The story then takes us almost 30 years forward, when an older Naseem (Shabana Azmi) stumbles upon a baby boy with a large nose in her daughter Mumtaz’s dream. Love, marriage and betrayal follow and finally Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami) ushers in a new life with Ahmed Sinai (Ronit Roy), who gives her a new name, Amina
Cut to August 15, 1947. Inspired by her lover John’s last words, “Let the rich be poor and the poor rich”, Mary Briganza (Seema Biswas), a nurse, switches the name tags of two babies, Saleem and Shiva, both born at the stroke of midnight. Swapping their destinies forever, she believes, is her contribution to John’s revolution.
While the poor-turned-rich Saleem grows up in the luxury of the Sinai household, the rich-turned-poor Shiva is pushed to poverty, moving from house to house, begging for money, with his street-singer father. Soon, young Saleem (Darsheel Safary) starts hearing voices in his head and realises that his destiny is intertwined with that of more than 500 children who were born within an hour of the midnight of India’s Independence. These ‘Midnight’s Children’ possess unique supernatural powers and Saleem can bring them all together with a sniff of his constantly dripping nose.
From here on, the movie becomes a highly compressed version of the novel. A tight script coupled with mind-blowing performances from almost every actor who appears on screen—especially Kapoor, Azmi, Goswami and Roy—makes the first half promising. But the second half disappoints, with some sloppy acting, long drawn-out scenes and saturated colours that reminds one of Slumdog Millionaire. The metaphors underlying Rushdie’s narrative, like the dark shadow cast by the Emergency, seems too literal a device to use and gets lost in cinematic translation. After a point, the transitions between scenes become jerky and the viewer is left with some bits and pieces that do not seem to fit properly. The saving grace in the second half, however, is the soulful background score by Nitin Sahwney. Towards the end of the film, it feels like Rushdie and Mehta got tired by the whole effort and somehow wanted to just wrap it up.
Of the cast, Safary puts up quite an impressive act in the first half, setting too high a standard, which debutante Satya Bhabha, who appears as the older Saleem, fails to match up to. Siddharth’s Shiva wears an expression of disgust throughout the movie, even while he makes love to Shriya Saran’s Parvathy, a character that gets reduced to nothing but a fixture that make the frames colourful. Rahul Bose stands out with his portrayal of Saleem’s uncle, General Zulfikar, and the beautiful Anita Majumdar gives him ample support as the arrogant Aunt Emerald. Other actors who deserve special mention are Kulbhushan Kharbhanda as Picture Singh, Sarita Choudhury as The Lady, a reference to Indira Gandhi, and Soha Ali Khan as Jamila.
It is widely believed that Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi busted the myth that some books are “unfilmable”, and Rushdie himself was heard saying in an interview recently that no book is “unfilmable”. But Mehta’s Midnight’s Children seems to reiterate that maybe not all books should be made into films. Watch the film for some fine performances and the wonderful soundtrack.