Midnight’s Children Film Adaptation

Midnight’s Children is Calgary International Film Festival’s Red Carpet Opening Gala presentation. Directed by Indo-Canadian, Oscar nominated Deepa Mehta (Water, 2005) in close collaboration with author Salman Rushdie, the film’s screening on September 20 marked its Western Canadian premiere.

Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981, and the Best of the Booker in 2008. While the novel is magic realism in genre, the film adaptation is a realistic, almost exact transposition of the novel into screen. Author Salman Rushdie asserts his authority in condensing 533 pages into 148 minutes of screen time, offering us a concise rendition of an epic story spanning four generations. “It was an exercise in discovering the essence of the book,” Rushdie said in an interview on CBC radio.

The audience has much to gain not only from Rushdie adapting his own work, but also from his voiceover narration. This is especially beneficial for those who have not read the novel. Here, the narrator is speaking directly to the viewers, and not like the book narrator Saleem telling his story to Padma as the reader eavesdrops. Rushdie’s narration strings together time, places, events, emotions and nuances into coherence.

Not only is the condensing of an epic a daunting task, the actual production faced numerous hurdles in the process. Director Deepa Mehta had to shoot the film in Sri Lanka under another title to avoid protests, but even there still had to deal with obstacles including Iran’s pressure to stop the filming.

Mehta has proficiently brought the story to screen with relatively fast pacing, engaging us with a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds as we zip past sixty years of India’s history. From Kashmir in 1917 to Bombay 1977, it brings us through the ending of British rule, the birth of a nation, the Partition of India and Pakistan, later the war of independence of Bangladesh, and finally, the Emergency under the government of Indira Gandhi.

Amidst the torrents of history emerges the main character Saleem Sinai. The film begins with his grandfather Dr. Aziz (Rajat Kapoor) in Kashmir, examining his patient and future wife Naseem (Shabana Azmi) through a perforated sheet. Humour adds to the enjoyment of seeing the scene visualized.

Then comes the next generation of Saleem’s parents Amina (Shahana Goshwami) and her husband Ahmed Sinai (Ronit Roy), moving to Bombay, giving birth to a baby boy at the stroke of midnight, the dawn of India’s independence on August 14, 1947. But baby Saleem is a changeling with another baby born the same time, Shiva, by the hands of Mary (Seema Biswas) the nurse.

Young Saleem is played by the charming Darsheel Safary. He has an appealing and affable screen presence, brightening up the film instantly when his story comes into focus. Saleem discovers that he has the special power to summon all midnight children to appear in his mind, children born at the stroke of India’s birth.

It is interesting to see how these Midnight’s Children Conferences convene, and watch the confrontations intensify between Saleem and his rival changeling, Shiva. If there’s any line that sticks out from the movie, it is this: Wars are often fought between friends. These Conferences only mirror the adult world of governments and nations, as we see conflicts and wars unfold chronologically with Saleem being tossed in the torrents of it all.

Music adds an interesting touch to the film. British colonial culture is reflected by Wee Willie Winkie’s (Samrat Chakrabarti) busking tunes in Methwold’s Estate as well as the hymn singing in Saleem’s boys school. We also see the change of political climate with Saleem’s sister Jamina (Soha Ali Khan) humming Indian melodies with her sweet young voice at home. After the family moves to Pakistan, she later grows up to be a popular singer supported by the Pakistani leader, as Saleem warns her, something doesn’t smell right. Throughout, music in the film enriches the storytelling, adding more colours to the cultural canvas.

After a forced surgery to correct his snotnose, the now adult Saleem (Satya Bhabha) gains a special power of smell, and is glad to welcome the smell of love. And love it is that leads him later to marry Parvati, another midnight’s child, abandoned by Shiva and carrying his son. It is love that prompts Saleem to raise Shiva’s child as his own. He knows it full well as he himself is not his parents’ son by birth. In turn, his reunion with his nanny Mary in a pickle factory later in Bombay ends with the moving moment when he acknowledges her role in raising him, addressing her as mother.

The character of Saleem carries the story affectively throughout, culminating in the final moment of love, for a son who is not his own, for a nation that has brought him pain and hardship. The last scene is another birthday of Saleem’s, thus India’s. Against the celebrative fireworks in the night sky, Saleem holds his son, a second generation of magical children, and looks out towards a brighter future, with the love that is essential to fuel the furnace of hope.

Indeed, the tone of the film is less acerbic and irreverent than the book, the two spanning a gap of 30 years. The milder cinematic version nevertheless is no less engrossing. With the realization of characters and emotions plainly in sight, it is effective in its conveyance of pathos and sentiments.

The shortfalls of a 148 minute cinematic adaptation from a long written work could be expected. The mega canvas of countless lives, deaths, and historical events in the book may appear cursory in the film and sometimes quickly wrapped up by the narration instead of being dealt with in greater depth. Nevertheless, all in all, the cinematic offering is entertaining and engaging, its characterization authentic, making it an enjoyable rendition of Rushdie’s literary work.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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CLICK HERE to read Midnight’s Children’s book review posts on Ripple Effects.

A NOTE ABOUT MOVIE PHOTOS: These images are used according to the Fair Use guidelines for criticism, comment and educational purposes. CLICK HERE for more information.

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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

22 thoughts on “Midnight’s Children Film Adaptation”

  1. This hadn’t been on my list, but I’m rethinking that now. It sounds very well done and while I haven’t read the book, the content sounds extremely compelling. Thanks! (It never ceases to amaze me, all the things I learn in Blog Land!)

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    1. Jeanie,

      It won’t be out in general release until Oct. 26 for the U.S. Hope you can catch it then and do come back and share your thoughts with us after you’ve seen it.

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    1. Amit,

      Welcome! You’re spot on when you said MC is ‘simple and complex’. Well, as you can imagine, such a multi-layered literary work when put on screen is bound to be more ‘simple’ than ‘complex’. However, I think this is still a good attempt and the final product is worth watching. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.

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  2. Oh, I agree with Marmeladegypsy: the things we learn here! And, I’m dropping in here cuz I’m not sure where I should go to sign up for the Anna Karenina read-a-thon but I would LOVE to join in. Oh yeah, I’m way behind already but I don’t care. Will do my best to catch up.
    As for this post on Midnight’s Children, I’m intrigued.
    (Can you believe there’s not a copy of Anna Karenina in this house? Sheesh. Off in search of one!)

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    1. oh,

      So glad you can join us in our Anna Karenina read-along. You’re not too late, read as much as you can, don’t worry about not finishing all the first four parts. Just share your thoughts come Sept. 30, write a post, and come by here and visit other posts I’ll link on my blog. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the read as well as the camaraderie. Again, welcome! Also, have you seen the trailer? It looks like one very different take on the classic.

      As for Midnight’s Children, you may want to see the film first. It’s definitely a colourful and interesting rendition.

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  3. What an interesting review! I’m not sure I’ll watch this film, so it was even nicer to read your thorough review of it. I was intrigued by the idea that wars are fought between friends, that’s something that triggers a lot of thought in me. And whilst I’ve only read one Salman Rushdie novel, I very much enjoyed it and want to read more. I do think he is an extremely innovative and creative writer.

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    1. litlove,

      Which Rushdie book did you read? I’m in line for his soon to be released memoir Joseph Anton at the public library. It’s about his years in hiding. I admit as an outsider, I’m only scratching the surface of Midnight’s Children when I read it, which calls for insiders knowledge of culture, history, and mythology. But, it’s enjoyable all the same.

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  4. Thanks for this, Arti. I am excited to see this, knowing there is no way anyone could cram all the creative chaos that is Midnight’s Children into a film. I just want to see Mehta and Rushdie’s collective images.

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  5. Despite all the clamor about the book, and all the readalongs and reviews, I simply couldn’t muster up interest in “Midnight’s Children”. It seemed too complex, too massive, too much to get through. I couldn’t quite grasp what it all was about. Your review has made the storyline more comprehensible, and the movie quite appealing. This is one where – for me – it will be better for the movie to come first and then the book.

    This may not be right at all, but it feels like the movie is rather like traveling the countryside on an interstate highway, while the book is those fabled back roads. There are more twists and turns, you have to go more slowly, but there’s a good bit more to see. 😉

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    1. Linda,

      I still remember your comment on my post on a book by Kawabata during the Japanese Lit. Challenge. My reply was it’s like sushi, an acquired taste. I think the idea applies here too. It’s demanding to read Rushdie esp. if one is an ‘outsider’, like me. I needed to do a lot of googling and get the background, history, etc. before I could start appreciating it. But now, I’m all geared up for Anna Karenina… sure hope you can dive in too. Oh just did. Don’t worry about the Sept. 30 first post. After all, we have all the time till November, even then it’s not a ‘deadline’. Just want to finish it before the film comes out. In some places, the film may not be screened for a longer while than Nov.

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  6. So glad, Arti, to hear you enjoyed this movie.

    I’m looking forward to seeing it….and AK, too. Time magazine called the latter, the most luscious film offering for the fall….or some words to that effect.

    Good to know Rushdie’s creative hand helped shape the film. And that he even serves us as narrator.

    I’ll come back to share thoughts after I see the film!

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    1. Janell,

      For this one, I think it helps that we’ve read the book. With the condensing of the 500+ pages into 2.5 hrs. of screen time, it can be confusing at times for someone who hasn’t read the whole story. But for the reader, I think it’s straight transposition from book to film, in other words, maybe some more stylizing and creative work could make it more appealing as a movie. I await your thoughts after you’ve seen it.

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    1. nikkipolani,

      Well, let’s just say my words express my personal feel for the film. May not extend to other’s. But hope you’d enjoy it. I think having read the book helps with the appreciation in this case. 😉

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  7. I’m sort of afraid of watching this because how can you fit all that epic greatness into a tiny film? But I trust Deepa Mehta and just cross fingers that I won’t be disappointed.

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    1. Claire,

      You know with the author writing the screenplay, I feel there’s always an attempt to cram in as much of the book as possible. With that in mind, you’d have to expect less depth for each episode. I’d like to use the word kaleidoscope to describe the film. And, if you’ve seen DM’s Water, let me just say this is quite different from that one.

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    1. You know, it’s almost a visual synopsis of the book. But then again, that could lead to the wish that it could have been a more cinematic and creative endeavour. Nevertheless, quite well-done.

      Like

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