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REVIEW: Mehta’s film brings to big screen every aspect of Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’

By Gurmukh Singh

TORONTO: The book that was “impossible to film” has been finally filmed and filmed brilliantly.

Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel Midnight’s Children’s film adaptation by Deepa Mehta made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival here Friday.

Anyone who has read the novel will tell you that you don’t need to be a film critic to appreciate the difficulties of filming such a multi-layered and complex work.

But after watching the film, one cannot fault Rushdie for saying that the cast with no “Bombay ultra-stars left their egos at home and gave us their all.”

The script brings to the big screen every aspect of the 533-page novel — Hindu-Muslim cultural divisions culminating in the Partition of 1947, later wars and the birth of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule, romance, surfeit of ironies, quirks of destiny and magical powers of the protagonist.

And the protagonist is Saleem Sinai (played by Satya Bhabha), who is one of the 581 Midnight’s Children born when India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was delivering his “tryst with destiny” speech on the night of August 14.

Saleem is born to a poor woman, but nurse Mary at a Bombay hospital swaps him with Shiva (played by southern star Siddharth ) who is born to rich parents. Thus, these two Midnight’s Children grow up to live each other’s destiny.

Endowed with psychic powers ostensibly because of his rather long nose, Saleem possesses uncanny ability to communicate with all the 581 Midnight’s Children. But his father doesn’t like it.

Then comes the revelation that Saleem’s blood group doesn’t match either of his father’s or mother’s. Which leads to his banishment by his father to Karachi to live with his army uncle General Zulfikar (played by Rahul Bose), who later takes over the country and imposes the martial law.

Superb story telling (in Rushdie’s voiceover) and magical cinematography bring to life the troubled history of the sub-continent, including the wars and the dark era of the Emergency.

Though Rushdie has described his book as a “love letter to India,” the film’s portrayal of Indira Gandhi (Sarita Choudhury) as a dictatorial prime minister who derailed democracy will be a bitter letter to the Indian establishment, which may not give the film the nod to screen.

The film may sound a bit rambling and loose at times, but considering the fact that a vast 533-page book has been adapted to a 148-minute film so brilliantly is a big tribute to Deepa Mehta. And the Indian public deserves the right to watch this masterpiece.

The film was shot over 70 days in Sri Lanka after Deepa Mehta’s troubles with Indian fundamentalists over the film Water in 2005 ruled out India as a location.

Another reason for shooting in Sri Lanka, Mehta had said earlier, was that Sri Lanka still has colonial buildings and landmarks from the British era.

But even Sri Lanka once ordered the shooting to stop after “the Sri Lankan ambassador to Iran received a communique from the Iranian government expressing their distress regarding the shooting of a film based on one of Salman Rushdie’s film.”

However, President Mahinda Rajapaksha intervened and the shooting started again. (Global India Newswire)

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