Photo courtesy of Mimi Dejene
DIR: Deepa Metha | Canada, India | 2012 | 148 mins | English, Hindustani
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children made it to the big screen — finally. But if there ever was a film worth waiting for, this is it.
Rushdie himself adapted the screenplay of his Booker Prize-winning novel. Yet director Deepa Metha brings her own sense of mystique and wit to his magical tale of two boys, born at the stroke of the midnight on August 15, 1947 — at the very minute that India gains its independence from Great Britain. A nurse at the Bombay hospital, caught up by the excitement of a new India and a new dawn, switches the boys. Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhanha), son of a poor, single mum who dies as she gives birth, ends up in the arms of a well-to-do family while Shiva (Siddahart), born to privilege and glory, becomes the son of Saalem's father, a beggar and a troubadour.
Saalem and Shiva are two of the 1,001 children born at midnight, each one of them gifted with an amazing talent. And so the story begins.
In a slight, somewhat absurd way, Midnight's Children reminds me of Gone with the Wind. Spanning six decades, from 1917 to 1977, this Indian epic takes us from the days of when the country was an obedient British colony through the struggles and bloodshed of independence to the creation of Bangladesh and the rein of Indira Gandhi. But instead of dusty American civil war uniforms and old oak trees, this movie explodes with sensory indulgence. There is an incredible range of intoxicating colours, seducing smells and unexpected flavours. Even a statuesque Clark Gable, embracing a stunning Scarlett O'Hara, pales in comparison.
Through the eyes of Saleem — and his extraordinary nose — we experience India's growing pains as she tries to find her own identity and come to terms with her freedom. Needless to say, the excruciating joy of being independent goes hand in hand with the hardship of uniting the Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Muslim communities. With new borders, where do people go? Where do they belong?
In her introduction during the opening of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival, Deepa Metha dedicated the Midnight's Children to families. Because in its very essence, the film captures the fate of one single family, interwoven with the history of India.
It is so very cleverly done, such as when India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, referred to as the witch, makes her short but memorable appearance. Thanks to his magical nose and resulting sneezes, Saleem can gather all the midnight's children at once but also look into the future. Gandhi surrounded by a cloud of darkness, sneezes into a handkerchief, which gets stained with wine red blood.
Despite sharing the same last name, Mahatma and Indira Gandhi weren't related. The daughter of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira led the nation from 1966 to 1977, and again from 1980 to 1984. Although many of Indira's reforms improved India, her leadership was also defined by violence, election fraud and power thirst. In Midnight's Children, Indira is characterized as an evil creature that forces India into the dark ages. Rushdie has said that he feels she crushed the hopes and promise of the newborn state with her reduced civil liberties and human rights violations.
As with other "fairy tales", Midnight's Children shouldn't be spoiled by revealing too much. Deepa Metha, whose feature film Sam & Me, won an Honorable Mention in the Camera D'Or section of the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, brings the childlike wonders of imagination and curiosity back to the screen, right where it belongs. Water, part of Metha's Element Trilogy, earned her a best foreign-language nomination. I'm crossing my fingers that next year Midnight's Children will go all the way — and win.
The film will be released in theatres November 2, 2012.
Finishing off her last year of journalism school, Malin wouldn't describe herself as self-proclaimed film buff. But she would never resist the opportunity to catch a good movie, hit the slopes after an epic dump or go traveling — anywhere, anytime.