Not Quite Novel
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DIRECTOR: Deepa Mehta
CAST: Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Shriya Saran, Soha Ali Khan, Siddharth, Rahul Bose,
Ronit Roy, Seema Biswas
At the stroke of the midnight hour, a nation was born. So was Saleem Sinai, a midnight's child whose destiny was yoked to the other children who were born at that precise witching hour, and to a newly-formed country that struggled with big ticket issues like identity, nationhood, and an ancient history that butted its old powerful head against the feebly kicking thing of modernity and selfhood. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is an astonishing piece of work in the way it yokes the personal and the public together in a madly inventive, riotous style that became, thenceforth, the benchmark for magical realism.
The film, whose screenplay has been written by Booker-winner author Rushdie himself, is not half as magical as the novel. It's hard enough to pull off the real-yet-not-real style that the best magical realists can manage, seemingly effortlessly, for copycat wordsmiths. It's infinitely more difficult to translate that elusive quality on screen. Deepa Mehta's film is only intermittently engaging: it is limited in scope and imagination, and in parts it becomes plodding and stagey.
The narrator's voiceover (done with brisk authority by Rushdie himself is good to hear, but it is a mismatch with the screen Saleem's wispy personality) takes us through the early history of India. Pre-Independence, we are in Kashmir and Agra and Bombay, and then we swing both ways to Pakistan and the newly-formed Bangladesh, and to people trying to figure out which side of which border they belong. Saleem (Bhabha) and Shiva (Siddharth) are switched at birth in a hospital by a nurse who is under great pressure to "make things equal". The rich boy is placed in the poor boy's crib, and their destinies are forever twinned and separate, at the same time.