Monday, 21 December 2015


“Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.” - Salman Rushdie

Director Deepa Mehta’s 2012 film “Midnight’s Children” starring  Rajat Kapoor, Vansh Bhardwaj, Anupam Kher is based on the novel of the same name by Salman Rushdie. The author collaborated with the director to write the screenplay. Generally, if the chemistry between the author and director is good, the results can result in excellent cinema. Unfortunately, this is not always the case…

Sir Ahmad Salman Rushdie, FRSL (born 19 June 1947) is a British Indian novelist and essayist. “Midnight’s Children” (1981), his second novel, won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He is said to combine magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilisations. His fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses” (1988), was the centre of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā calling for his assassination issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989, and as a result the author was put under police protection by the British government.

Rushdie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Britain’s foremost literary organisation, in 1983. He was appointed Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France in January 1999. In June 2007, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his services to literature. In 2008, The Times ranked him thirteenth on its list of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945. Since 2000, Rushdie has lived in the United States, where he has worked at Emory University and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2012, he published “Joseph Anton: A Memoir”, an account of his life in the wake of the controversy over “The Satanic Verses”.

I was a little wary to watch the film as Rushdie’s prose, though lush and quite literary, can also be rather convoluted and sesquipedalian, and in parts turgid. Thus is the writing of most literary authors who try “Write” with a capital “W”. And it is because of this (or perhaps in spite of this?) that their work is recognised by the various organisations that hand out literary prizes. Nevertheless, the film was very watchable and the gorgeous cinematography, grand locations, colourful costumes and beautiful music made it, if nothing else, good eye candy.

The plot commences at the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, when India declares independence from Great Britain. Two babies born in the same Bombay hospital at midnight are switched at birth by a nurse. And so it is that Saleem Sinai, the illegitimate child of a beggar woman, and Shiva, the only son of a wealthy couple, are fated to live the destinies meant for each other. Over the next three decades, Saleem and Shiva find themselves on opposite sides of many a conflict, whether it be because of class, politics, romantic rivalry, or the constantly shifting borders that are drawn every time neighbours become enemies and decide to split their newborn nation into two, and then three, warring countries. Through it all, the lives of Saleem and Shiva are mysteriously intertwined. There is another mystic link with all other children that are born around midnight on that fateful date, as all these “Midnight Children” have mystical powers. Saleem and Shiva are also inextricably linked to the history of India itself, which takes them on a whirlwind journey full of trials, triumphs and disasters.

The film is a loose allegory for events in India both before and, primarily, after the independence and partition of India. The protagonist and narrator of the story is Saleem Sinai, born with telepathic powers, as well as an enormous and constantly dripping nose with an extremely sensitive sense of smell. The technique of “magical realism” finds liberal expression throughout the novel and is crucial to constructing the parallel to the country’s history.

The film was controversial, primarily because of the way India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was portrayed. The same controversy had dogged the book: In 1984 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brought an action against the book in the British courts, claiming to have been defamed by a single sentence in chapter 28, penultimate paragraph, in which her son Sanjay Gandhi is said to have had a hold over his mother by his accusing her of contributing to his father’s Feroze Gandhi’s death through her neglect. The case was settled out of court when Salman Rushdie agreed to remove the offending sentence.

The film certainly makes Salman Rushdie’s prose more accessible to the general public that perhaps is not as keen to read the novel. The film is beautiful to look at, has some fine cinematic moments in it and there are some poignant and moving parts in it. However, the screenplay is too indulgent (remember the author was responsible for it) and the direction was perhaps a trifle over-ambitious. What was worrying for me personally was that there was a disconnect between me as a viewer and the characters and action on screen. When there is not a strong emotional connection with the characters on film, it can be disastrous in a movie – especially one as long and as epic as this one. I am glad we watched it, but I can think of other more worthy films to recommend to friends to see. If you get a chance to see it, do so, it is good, but I would not go out of my way to hunt it out and watch it…


  1. well done movies are so rare!
    A wonderful meme!
    Herzlich Pippa

  2. I agree about Rushdie's turgid prose, but the film I found very enjoyable.