Salman Rushdie, who was heavily involved in the making of this film, is, apparently, “very proud” of the final product. This is hardly surprising, as the film is an immaculate replica of his book. However,this is arguably its greatest flaw. Midnight’s Children has its merits, but, as somebody who has read the text, the interpretation disappointingly lacks any form of innovation.
Producing an adaptation to a Booker of Bookers was always going to be a challenge, and I can see why Deepha Mehta would have wanted to preserve as much of the brilliance that the book had to offer. There is also the added difficulty of the substance of the book. It is a text which is made up of layer upon layer of symbolism and the genre of magic realism in particular, does not lend itself easily to directors. The magic realism genre was dealt with affectively. The Midnight’s Childrens’ Conference was handled in a mature manner: there were no corny special effects or cringe-worthy musical themes to be found here. Even more impressively, Shriya Saran’s acting successively suspends any cynic’s disbelief, even while whispering the rather clichéd charm of “Abracadabra”. The seriousness in this young witch’s eyes and the genuineness of her entire persona were what this film needed to support its difficult genre.
We have, without a doubt, been spoilt with films depicting the beauty of India. Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are to name but two. The landscape of this beautiful country is arguably, a double-edged sword. It is a stunning location, but countless films have proved this before. Mehta rises to the challenge, with shots in shanti towns which are just as spectacular as the well watered gardens of the bourgeoisie. The warm and gentle summers are depicted when appropriate, while the vibrant colours of the food, clothing and country are far from neglected. The whole visual spectrum of India can be catalogued within the 146 minutes of running time.
Please do not assume, however, that this film solely focusses on magic and midsummer evenings. I am not squeamish, but much to my favour, my mother was rather put off our bag of wine gums, when the first rather gruesome operation was performed on the poor, unconsenting, Saleem. Yes, this film is pretty gritty when the mood calls for it. The scenes of violence are realistic and incredibly visceral – just what is needed to capture the uncertain and insecure feelings which infiltrated the emotions of the newly independent Indian peoples. The use of media montage to portray political events worked well, as the audience were made to feel the sense of distance from those who held authority, as the majority of the country did. No doubt Rushdie played a part in this cinematic symbolism.
Earlier on in this piece, I criticised Mehta for clinging too closely to the text. What could have been done differently? Well, for me, the part of the film which focussed on the childhood of the characters was far more interesting than the latter part. More time should have been dedicated to this part of the story, while a number of scenes of the characters in their later lives could have been cut. I believe that this would have served as a remedy for the impression that the film was far longer than it was, despite being only two and a half hours. Flashbacks of scenes which were symbolically relevant to later parts of the storyline, such as Saleem’s grandfather viewing his bride through a perforated sheet, should have come into play when appropriate. This would have brought across the weaving of symbolism which makes up the narrative in the text
Perhaps, my position as somebody who has read the text blinds me partially when viewing this film. It is possible that a close following of the book was necessary in order to explain, what is undoubtedly, a spectacularly surreal storyline. However, I can assure you that while this film may serve as an excellent late-night watch for those of you who have your Midnight’s Children seminar the next morning, and have neglected to read the book on your desk; it did not offer me anything more than the text did in its original form. Perhaps if Salman Rushdie had loosened the reins on the making of this film, the creativity of other brilliant minds could have made it even more special.