MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN: 3 ½ STARS
Based on Salman Rushdie’s acclaimed book of the same name, “Midnight’s Children” is the story of Saleem Sinai, a Zelig-like character whose remarkable life was inextricably linked to India’s transition from British colonialism to independence and the partition of India.
“Midnight’s Children’s” sprawling story begins with the words “once upon a time,” setting the tone for the fable to come. Saleem Sinai’s (Satya Bhabha) journey begins when he is born at the stroke of midnight, August 14, 1947, the precise moment India divided. He is one of the happy children “of the glorious hour,” joining an elite group of kids who share his birthday, including Shiva “of the Knees”, Saleem’s adversary and Parvati, called “Parvati-the-witch.”
Unfortunately for him, he can only see and hear them as visions in his head. His extrasensory ability, giant nose and questions about parentage make him an outcast in his own family. As he grows up he becomes a soldier, suffers amnesia, lives in exile, survives a “cleansing” of the Jama Masjid slum, is held as a political prisoner and reconnects with some of the Midnight’s Children.
Director Deepa Metha and screenwriter Rushdie have been faithful to the 600-page novel summarizing it into a two-hour-and-twenty-minute movie, condensing the story but not the themes that make the story such a rewarding experience.
The magic realism, however, that is so prevalent in the book has been downplayed. It doesn’t disappear—the ability to telepathically communicate with the other Midnight’s Children lies at the heart of the story—but it gives way to the more tangible aspects of the tale. Still, there is a shift in tone once the mystical element kicks in that may take viewers unfamiliar with the novel by surprise.
Less surprising is the beautiful look of the film. Deepa Metha has meticulously reconstructed the look of post-Colonial India, and presents a sumptuously colourful and vivid portrait of a changing country.
“Midnight’s Children” is one man’s story, with the scope of history and humanity behind it.