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Midnight’s Children

Director: Deepa Mehta

Countries:  Canada / United Kingdom
Year:  2012
Language:  English, Hindustani
Runtime:  148 minutes
Rating:  PG
Exec. Producer:  Deepa Mehta, Dilip Mehta, Salman Rushdie, Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding, Steven Silver, Neil Tabatznik, Elizabeth Karlsen, David Hamilton, Stephen Woolley
Producer:  David Hamilton
Production Co.:  Hamilton-Mehta Midnight Productions Inc., Number 9 Films
Principal Cast:  Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Rajat Kapoor, Seema Biswas, Shriya Saran, Siddharth , Ronit Roy, Rahul Bose, Anita Majumdar, Zaib Shaikh, Anupam Kher
Screenplay:   Salman Rushdie Source
Author:  Salman Rushdie
Cinematographer:  Giles Nuttgens
Editor:  Colin Monie
Sound:  Sylvain Arseneault, Jane Tattersall, Lou Solakofski
Music:  Nitin Sawhney
Prod. Designer:  Dilip Mehta
Canadian Dist.:  Mongrel Media
Int. Sales Agent:  FilmNation Entertainment
U.S. Sales Agent: FilmNation Entertainment

Spanning decades and generations, celebrated Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta's highly anticipated adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize®–winning novel is an allegorical fantasy in which children born on the cusp of India's independence from Britain are endowed with strange, magical abilities.

The film follows the destinies of children born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment that India claimed its independence from Great Britain — a coincidence of profound consequence for both. "Handcuffed to history," and switched at birth by a nurse in a Bombay hospital, Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha), the son of a poor single mother, and Shiva (Siddharth), scion of a wealthy family, are condemned to live out the fate intended for the other. Imbued with mysterious telepathic powers, their lives become strangely intertwined and inextricably linked with those Indian children born at the same moment – and to their country’s careening journey through the tumultuous twentieth century.

Like the novel, the movie is infused throughout with magic realism. For instance, Saleem telepathically calls a conference of midnight’s children to discuss the issues facing the country. (It’s disrupted by Shiva’s objections.) An operation on Saleem’s nose severs his magical link with the other children, and he loses his memory during the war with Pakistan.

Befitting a film which deals with the Indian diaspora, the epic cast is from all over the globe, including: British born Bhabha, who played Saleem, and is a relative newcomer whose credits include feature films and American television series; well known Indian stars like Shabana Azmi (who appeared in Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players, 1977; was the poster girl for India’s Parallel cinema of the 1970s and 1980s; and featured in Mehta’s Fire in 1996); and Seema Biswa (Shekar Kapur’s The Bandit Queen, 1994; Mehta’s earlier Oscar-nominated® Water, 2005; and Richie Mehta’s Amal, 2007); veteran Bollywood actors Ronit Roy; Siddharth; and Shahan Goswami; Tamil and Bollywood star Shriya Saran; Canadian television and theatre performers like Zaib Shakh (the star of the long running sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie) and Anita Majumdar; and actor /director Rahul Bose. Bose, incidentally, was originally cast as Saleem in a planned TV adaptation for the BBC which never came to fruition after the controversy around Satanic Verses. In this version, Bose provides some of the film’s most memorable moments as General Zulfikar, a military man who’s simultaneously fearsome, comic and pathetic.

A kaleidoscopic capsule history of India from Partition to the end of Indira Ganhdi’s reign, the film directly or obliquely recounts many if not all of the key events of the period, from the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971; the persecution of Muslims in post-Independence India; the creation of Bangladesh; the military’s seizure of power in Pakistan; to Indira Gandhi’s imposition of martial law and the destruction of the poorer, largely Muslim neighbourhoods in the Turkmen Gate and the Jama Masjid district of Delhi, the location of the most significant mosque in India.

In addition, Mehta and Rushdie also address the impact of the West on a variety of levels, from the lingering effects of colonialism to its cultural and scientific influences. The novel and film begin, ala Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, before the hero’s birth, with his grandfather’s courtship of his grandmother. He’s called in by his bride to be’s father, an ultra-traditionalist who insists his daughter be examined through a sheet held by her handmaidens. Many commentators have cited the early sequences of the film as some of the finest and most visually striking work Mehta has done.

As one might expect with an adaptation of a beloved and widely acclaimed novel, the movie had some detractors (a number of them taking issue with Rushdie’s script), but in general it was respectfully if not necessarily rapturously received. Veteran British critic Philip French wrote, “As a film and a novel, Midnight’s Children is a great baggy work” (The Observer, Sunday, December 23, 2012) while the Toronto Star’s Linda Barnard said, “Deepa Mehta has crafted an epic, visually pleasing tale weaving politics, colourful splendour, romantic love and magic with her most ambitious film to date” (Toronto Star, Thursday, November 1, 2012).

Regardless, Midnight’s Children is a production of truly impressive scope: featuring sixty-two locations, state-of-the-art computer graphics, impressive production design by the director’s brother Dilip Mehta, and an enormous cast and crew, it was filmed under a cloak of secrecy in Sri Lanka, which turned out to be the best possible place to recreate the India of the past century.

The narration, by the way, is voiced by Rushdie himself. After seeing the film, which like the book contains autobiographical elements, he was so impressed with the group of actresses who played his aunts that he said he felt they’d come back to life.

Nominated for eight Canadian Screen Awards and winner of two -- Salman Rushdie won for Best Adapted Screenplay while Seema Biswas won for Best Supporting Actress -- the film was also named one of Canada’s Top Ten features in TIFF’s annual list for 2012.

Parts of this entry originally appeared in the TIFF 2012 programme. Additional notes by Steve Gravestock.

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