A film based on a novel by one of the world’s most infamous writers (Salman Rushdie) is cause for plenty of buzz. There was plenty of talk surrounding this film before it even came out. When a popular piece of literature (it won the Booker Prize in 1980) is adapted for the screen there is always anticipation that builds. Will it do the written work justice? What parts of the novel will be edited out for pacing purposes? Who will direct? Who will star? Now the film has been made and all those questions have been answered.
Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta (Water, Heaven on Earth) is at the helm. Even though she is director of title you get the feeling as if Salman Rushdie’s fingerprints are all over this film. He wrote the screenplay, executive produces and even is the narrator of the sprawling epic that spans 60 years from 1917 until 1977. The film is so faithful to the source material with nary a deviation that it is too long and is honestly a little boring.
Two male children are born at the same time in India. The boys are born right at midnight on August 15, 1947. This date is significant because it is when India gained its independence from Britain. Shortly after their birth the two boys are switched and are sent home with two different families. One lives a poor family and one by a rich. We soon learn that even though Saleem (Satya Bhabha – Fair Game, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Shiva (Siddharth) are apart they can communicate with each other telepathically.
The multi-generational story brings us through civil war in India, the creation of Bangladesh, and finally to the streets of Delhi in the 1970s. At the end of it all the two boys who were swapped at birth by a nurse named Mary (Seema Biswas – Water) and now brought back together.
As a novel and somewhat as a film Midnight’s Children aims to be an historical look at India at a very important time in its history. As a director Deepa Mehta seems to have little interest in a making a film of this sort. You can tell that the emotional aspect of the story is where her heart and interests lie. She wants us to feel a lot of emotions and in the end all I was feeling was exasperation and boredom.
Mehta tries to bring us on a visual and geographical journey with Midnight’s Children. She fails. It is a journey filled with wonderful flute music, ornate sets and colourful costumes, but ultimately I just wanted to get off the train that I was on. I really did not learn anything of substance during this journey. And that is a glaring failure as this part of the world is not one that I know much about. It was an opportunity wasted.
There are several glaring faults with the film. Most importantly is insistence upon making the lead character of Saleem a very one-dimensional and predictable man. Actor Satya Bhabha does his best to add some dimension and depth, but there is only so far his charisma can take him. The literal translation of the book and events happening is a constant problem throughout the film. Director Mehta tries to divert our attention from this problem is by making the film beautiful and dreamlike to look at, but it is not enough unfortunately. It is so direct that you feel like as if you are being led around by the nose or, even worse, manipulated instead of observing the story. Way too rigid.
The fact that the film basically fails is disappointing as it begins strongly, but stumbles along very quickly and goes on way too long. It is plain and simple too much to take in all in one sitting.