Midnight’s Children – Movie Review
Posted by FATEMA H.KAGALWALA on February 4, 2013 | No Comments
PRODUCER – David Hamilton
DIRECTOR – Deepa Mehta
WRITER – Salman Rushdie (Adapted from his book of the same name)
CAST – Satya Bhabha, Siddharth, Shriya Saran, Rajat Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Shahana Goswami, Ronit Roy, Anupam Kher, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan, Seema Biswas, Khulbhushan Kharbanda
MUSIC – Nitin Sawhney
If you’ve read the book, you will know why it has been claimed to be unfilmable. When you watch the film, you will know the claim was hugely right. Despite that, we have Deepa Mehta embarking on this massively ambitious adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s widely-acclaimed allegorical, lyrical and magic realist novel.
At the stroke of midnight on 14th August 1947, India won back its independence. Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha) was also born at this hour and exchanged with another child Shiva (Siddharth) by his nurse’s misguided notions of love and social justice. Saleem has special powers of telecommunicating with all the children born at midnight and among them are Shiva and Parvati, the witch (Shriya Saran). He calls Midnight’s Children’s Conferences and only he has the power to do so. The book and the film is his story as it becomes an allegory of the hopes, dreams and special powers of a newly founded nation carried and wasted away.
The film unfolds at a languid pace, with Saleem’s voice-over narration towering over what we watch unfolding. After delving into a large chunk of his ancestral history, the film introduces us to the grown-up Saleem and from then on reduces his journey into parts chunked-together with momentous history of the nation. The 1971 War, totalitarian the Emergency, the infamous slum ‘cleansing’ by Indira Gandhi all come in as milestones to depict the journey of a once-full-of-potential nation (and Saleem) into decrepitude.
Through this all, Rushdie and Mehta retain the lyricism of Rushdie’s original voice, unfortunately making for a skewered experience. Such is the poeticism of his words and such is the over-wrought nature of the voice-over that no amount of visually romantic portrayal does justice or lives up to the sublime mood.
The film’s intent ambitious, the outcome is jerky at best. Constantly wavering between magic realism and dull, almost documentary narrative, the film is weighed down by its own inefficiency to tie up the largesse of the novel’s lofty ambitions and themes. Even a romantic encounter filmed on Ghaalib’s ‘Unke dekhese’ then doesn’t do the trick. Besides, there is the romantic, outsider gaze of India’s grit and sullenness that calls out the game.
Where the film really scores is the surprising ensemble of cast it gathers to tell its tale. The presence of talents like Rajat Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Shahana Goswami, Ronit Roy, Anupam Kher, Rahul Bose, Shriya Saran, Sarita Chaudhury, Siddharth, Soha Ali Khan, Seema Biswas, Khulbhushan Kharbanda lend a distinct gravity to the narrative.
Yet, the film hinges young trio of Satya Bhabha, Siddharth and Shriya Saran as the midnight’s children and there simply isn’t enough power in their performances. Satya Bhabha is easily outdone by Darsheel Safary who plays the younger Saleem with a lot of heart. Siddharth’s innate vulnerability defies all his honest attempts at appearing rough, cold and heartless. Shriya Saran has a magical quality about her that lifts up her persona as a witch yet hers stays a limited performance.
Perhaps, it is the malaise of a hugely lyrical book and the troubles of visual representation that the narrative is stilted and episodic. Yet, there is an aplomb and visual fair that makes the film enchanting despite it all. That is if you haven’t read the book.