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

***

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.

***

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, Book One

CLICK HERE to read my Movie Review of Midnight’s Children

***

In his introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition of Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie writes:

In the West people tended to read Midnight’s Children as a fantasy, while in India people thought of it as pretty realistic, almost a history book.

I admit, when I started reading Midnight’s Children, I was frustrated. I knew I just couldn’t read it purely as a fantasy. Why, these are real dates in history, important events, the World Wars, the Mahatma’s call for an independent India with non-violent means, the separation of India and Pakistan along religious lines… There must be more, I told myself. I knew I could never read it as an insider, but I could at least peek through the fences, and get a glimpse of what’s going on inside.

And so I did. I searched for background info and author interviews, both online and off. As a result, my reading pleasure is enhanced after I found out how realistic the novel is. Personal happenings actually correspond with important historical events, not unlike the movie Forrest Gump, little people tossed in the currents of history.

Rushdie in an interview noted that instead of using an Austenesque way to tell his story by focusing on the details and the minute, he chose to adopt a Dickensian approach, placing his characters on a macro, societal canvas. As a result, we have a monumental epic. Mind you, he just wanted to write a novel about childhood, he said.

The narrator, Saleem Sinai, started with his Grandfather Aadam Aziz in 1915, thirty-two years before India’s independence. The young doctor examined his patient and future wife Naseem through a perforated sheet a bit at a time, under the close supervision of her cautious father. When at last she complained of a headache, he finally could see her face, “on the day the World War ended.” It’s pure humor also, and I’ve enjoyed Rushdie’s free wheeling brush strokes.

But often the comical may just serve to bring out more poignantly a sombre reality. When I first read the ‘Mercurochrome’ chapter, it didn’t hit me at all. Later, I read about the atrocity that had actually happened on April 13th, 1919, the Amritsar massacre. British Brigadier-General Reginald E. H. Dyer ordered Marshal Law regulations, banning all assemblies. A large crowd defied his orders and started converging in the compound Jallianwala Bagh for a peaceful protest. Dyer marched fifty riflemen up and ordered them to shoot at the crowd indiscriminately, men, women children.

They have fired a total of one thousand six hundred and fifty rounds into the unarmed crowd. Of these, one thousand five hundred and sixteen have found their mark… ‘Good shooting,’ Dyer tells his men, ‘We have done a jolly good thing.’ (p. 34)

A few days ago, Aadam helped the wounded on the streets and got Mercurochrome all over his white shirt, and had to explain to wife Naseem the red stains were not blood. Now on this fateful day, Naseem assumed the red was Mercurochrome again, but was told, “it’s blood,” and she fainted.

The relevance of the perforated sheet reemerges in the next generation when Amina Sinai, Saleem’s mother, has to learn to love her husband Ahmed Sinai one fragment at a time:

 ‘Who, after all,’ she reasoned privately, ‘ever truly knows another human being completely?’

The last two chapters ‘Methwold’ and ‘Tick, Tock’ strike a chord in me. Why, I’m not totally an outsider after all. For the first fifteen years of my life, I was a colonial. I was born and grew up in the then British colony of Hong Kong. So reading Book One of Midnight’s Children, I feel certain affiliation. It reminds me of my childhood days, which were also filled with multiplicity of cultures, the fusion of languages, and fortunately, the calm co-existence of religions. There were spittoons and Mercurochrome. I was familiar with bilingual usages, aware of the divide between the subject and the ruling, the East and the West. Even now, I can spot the ‘imitation Oxford drawls’. My “Tick, Tock” moment was when I watched on TV here in Canada the last governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten standing in the rain holding the British Colony flag, saying goodbye to all that on July 1, 1997.

Rushdie’s animated style makes his India colourful and fascinating. His characters, descriptions and dialogues are like the splashes of a Pollock painting. That’s where the fantasy comes in, I suppose, on the large canvas of history.

Book One ends with intrigue. Saleem Sinai, it turns out, is a changeling. At the stroke of midnight August 15, 1947, two boys were born, but was soon mixed up by midwife Mary Pereira in a wilful act of self-assertion. This too has its deeper reference:

When we eventually discovered the crime of Mary Pereira, we all found that it made no difference! I was still their son: they remained my parents. In a kind of collective failure of imagination, we learned that we simply could not think our way out of our pasts…

I look forward to reading the childhood of these two changelings Saleem and Shiva, and their  journeys ahead.

***

Here are the other Read-Along Posts for Book One (so far):

Bellezza at Dolce Belleza
Gavin of Page247
Janell of An Everyday Life
Jerikavonalexandra of averydisorientedreader
Colleen of Books in the City 

If you’ve written a post for our Read-Along, do let us know in a comment.

***

CLICK HERE to Book Two: Part A
CLICK HERE to Book Two: Part B
CLICK HERE to Book Three Conclusion

CLICK HERE to read a March 1, 2012 interview of director Deepa Mehta on CBC news.
CLICK HERE to read about the filming of Midnight’s Children.

Midnight’s Children Read-A-Long

Midnight’s Children Read-Along has begun. Here are the post to:
Midnight’s Children Read-Along Begins
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, Book One
Midnight’s Children Book Two (Part A: up to ‘Alpha and Omega’) 
Midnight’s Children Read-Along Book Two Part B
Midnight’s Children: Book Three

On Dec. 29 of last year, I posted “Year End Tally and 2012 Outlook“, and I thought that would be it. The two challenges I’ve taken up for this year, the Graham Greene and the Ireland Reading, would be sufficient in lieu of any new year’s resolutions. Further, there will always be movie reviews and other choices in reading on the spur of the moment.

Along came the new year and another opportunity. Thanks to Mrs. B of The Literary Stew, who suggested to me a read-a-long of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, I gladly accepted the idea. We’re excited that Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza and Colleen of Books in the City will also be joining us. I know that on Bellezza’s blog, she has a few who have shown interest. You’re invited to hop on as well.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children won the 1981 Booker Prize. In 1993, it was awarded the Booker of the Bookers trophy, the best novel to have won the Booker Prize for Fiction in the Award’s 25-year history. I admit I haven’t read any Rushdie before, so I just thought this would be a good one to start. Do click on the link above to Booker’s website for the synopsis and bio.

Another major reason for my interest in reading it this year is that its film adaptation is currently in post-production. Acclaimed Canadian director Deepa Mehta (Water, 2005) is at the helm of the production. Rushdie is closely involved in the process with Mehta in condensing his novel into 130 pages of screenplay. Filming has already been completed in Sri Lanka. According to IMDb, it will be released this fall.

My copy is the 25th Anniversary Edition. It has 533 pages. Considering the dense writing and the historical backdrop of the novel, it sounds like a book that calls for reading camaraderie and dialogue. Also, we’ve decided to take it slow. By so doing, we can also pursue other readings or blogging activities while doing this.

So here’s our plan. The novel is divided into 3 sections, with the middle the longest, so we’ll split it in two. We’ll begin reading in March. One month for each part. Review posts are to be posted according to the following schedule:

March 31 — Book One
April 30   — Book Two (Part A ending with ‘Alpha and Omega’)
May 31    —  Book Two (Part B starting with ‘The Kolynos Kid’)
June 30   — Book Three

You’re welcome to join us in this slow read. Just indicate in the comment section and leave a link. 

**

And to everyone, Happy Reading in 2012!

***