Friday, May 10, 2013

"Midnight's Children": Salman Rushdie's 1981 historical novel about India and Pakistan becomes a sweeping epic


Why do some people insist that word really can hurt them, to the point that they will target authors for “blasphemy”?  That was the case with Salman Rushdie, the British-Indian author, after his fourth novel, “Satanic Verses”, said to be based on the life of Mohammed.  The second novel, “Midnight’s Children”, becomes a  most moving and epic film directed by Deepa Mehta, running 145 minutes. (No company has tried to film Rushdie's fourth novel, yet.)

The novel and movie track a group of children born around midnight when India gained independence from Britain in August, 1947. The film focuses particularly on the life of one young man, Saleem  Sanai, played as an adult by a most charismatic and attractive Satya Bhabha. 
  
The film starts with a prologue going back to 1917 relating to his natural father, and then moves to the night of the births.  A nurse, infused with the Marxist idea that “the rich shall become poor and the poor shall become rich” performs a “revolutionary act”, and switches two of the babies.
    
Saleem winds up being raised by a wealthy Muslim family (although it’s not so clear that his biological family is that poor), and is raised in Pakistan, “The Land of the Pure”, by an autocratic father. His appearance – he is a bit whiter than usual and quite hairy, even at 16, may have been a cue. When his “adoptive” father finds out, he tries to disown him, but the mother stands by him. 

Nevertheless, things happen to Saleem  not of his choice.  He gets drafted into a couple of wars, one of which splits Paksitan off from Bangladesh.  Another crisis occurs with Indira Ghandi’s “emergency” in India in 1975. 

Saleem becomes a “conduit” for telepathic communication among the “children”, and exploring various gifts, that seem to relate to how close to midnight they were born. The film plays down the "sci-fi" aspects of the story, preferring allegory. Eventually, Saleem’s “partner” catches up with him during the Ghandi crisis, and for a while wants payback.

Saleem is force into two operations physically, once to restore his natural dad’s “nose” (which makes little difference), and another to sterilize him.  Nevertheless, he may have progeny after all.

The film is quite sweeping, filmed 2.35:1.  It was sponsored in part by Telefilm Canada and indoor scenes were shot in Toronto.  The film is distributed by Paladin, E-One, and Film Nation, which I believe is “Film Movement”, which tends to distribute international films with heavy political content.

There are occasionally some lines of obvious political subtext, as when the 16-year old Saleem invites hostility from peers by saying that life is about being and not about "having things."  
  
The official site is here


I saw this in a small auditorium, but nearly full, Thursday night at Landmark E Street downtown. Bu tit is definitely a “West End” type of film. 

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