It's almost unavoidable that any film adaptation of a much loved book will disappoint as much as it will please readers; film is not literature, and both media have different demands. However, Deepa Mehta's film version of Salman Rushdie's 1980 Booker Prize winner and certified masterpiece Midnight's Children complicates things in a whole different way. Mr. Rushdie himself scripted the adaptation and it's his unmistakable voice heard narrating the tale, and this makes it even more baffling that the film turns out to be a visual feast that turns the thought-provoking story and the book's delicate tonal balance into an exotically melodramatic family saga.

     It's not entirely surprising: Ms. Mehta, born in India but long based in Canada, has never shied away from deploying eye-catching visuals to simultaneously underline and offset the melodramatic structures of her conventionally-structured, well-meaning tales (the trilogy of Earth, Fire and Water coming most obviously to mind). The effect is often that of watching a sophisticated Bollywood song-and-dance extravaganza shorn of song and dance - an approach that would, in fact, make a whole lot of sense applied to Mr. Rushdie's sprawling tale of post-independence India seen through the eyes of the preternaturally gifted Saleem Sinai (played by Darsheel Safary as a teenager and by Satya Bhabha as an adult), born at the exact stroke of midnight when India became independent, symbolizing in a nutshell the enormous promise and painful disappointment of the new nation's growing pains.

     But the books' oneiric, synesthetic, post-modern playfulness is often lost in Ms. Mehta and Mr. Rushdie's gorgeous-looking but dramatically-flat adaptation, effectively a series of chronologically sequential episodes - little playlets that connect the narrative dots in a broadly melodramatic fashion while losing all of the connecting tissue and little details that made the book so richly rewarding. Individually, some of the elements (especially in the first half of the film) gel reasonably well, but the rather basic character arcs mean that even the best performers in a very unequal cast (confirming the director as a visual stylist with serious casting issues) can't make anything out of what they're given. Midnight's Children eventually collapses in a rather disappointing sequence of exotic eye candy that pays a disservice to its origins - in a way, a film that mirrors very precisely the ultimate fate of its title characters, and that proves a fine writer may not be the best person to make a film out of his own creation.

Cast: Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswani, Rajat Kapoor, Seema Biswas, Shriya Saran, Siddharth, Ronit Roy, Rahul Bose, Darsheel Safary, Shabana Azmi, Charles Dance, Kanvir Shorey, Vinay Patak, Anupam Kher
Director: Deepa Mehta
Screenwriters: Salman Rushdie, Ms. Mehta, from Mr. Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children
Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Nitin Sawhney
Designer: Dilip Mehta
Costumes: Dolly Ahluwalia, Ritu Kumar
Editor: Colin Monie
Producer: David Hamilton (Hamilton-Mehta Midnight Productions in association with Number 9 Midnight Films, Canadian Broadcasting Network, The Movie Central, Canada Media Fund, Ontario Media Development Corporation, Filmnation Entertainment, Blue Lake Media Fund and Echo Lake Entertainment)
Canada/United Kingdom/USA, 2011, 148 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, October 6th 2013


Popular Posts