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In Cinemas This Week

Midnight’s Children



Released: 26th December 2012

Directed By: Deepa Mehta

Starring: Satya Bhabha, Shawana Goswami

Certificate: 12A


Reviewed By: Craig Williams

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning masterpiece is so reliant on its lyrical prose and layered allegories that any attempt to adapt it for the big screen is in and of itself admirable. The elements which elevate the novel to genius are the very things that are the most difficult to capture cinematically; from the magical realism to mythical imagery, it takes a large degree of imagination to convey these ideas visually. Deepa Mehta’s lengthy film, adapted and narrated by Rushdie himself, is notable for its comprehensive approach to the novel’s dense plot, but lacks any real aesthetic definition or creative spark, rendering it somewhat lifeless and prone to plodding digressions.

Midnight’s Children is the story of the conflicted birth of a country and its subsequent struggle for identity. Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha) is born at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. He has a magical power allowing him to communicate with the other “midnight’s children” born on that fateful hour. Saleem’s life story serves as an allegory for his nation’s post-colonial development, charting its highs and lows.

Vital context and background information is inevitably lost in the way the film rushes over the more complicated political issues underlining the narrative, but this is an understandable decision given its already-significant running time. Wider political commentary is substituted to an extent by the focus on the smaller personal stories that reflect the wider national hopes and fears.

There are many things to enjoy and admire in Midnight’s Children. Rushdie’s poetic narration brings both gravitas and a sense of mysticism to the material thanks to his elegiac cadences and eloquent writing. The characters are also well-drawn and nicely performed by the talented cast. The film’s principal problem lies with the lack of imagination at its heart.

While it’s certainly impressive that Mehta and Rushdie have managed to cover the whole story in the film, it is arguable that the literal page-to-screen transposition results in pacing that is decidedly uncinematic. It’s evident that the filmmakers are dependent on the film’s almost dogmatic dedication to the plot being enough to create a successful adaptation. But Midnight’s Children would have benefited from a more radical approach to the narrative and some additional visual panache. The lack of imagination in the film’s aesthetics means that the more ethereal and magical elements never move or amaze like they should.

Midnight’s Children is successful in the sense that it has turned a seemingly unfilmable novel into a functional and coherent film, it’s just a shame that Mehta was overly cautious with the material, resulting in a conservative and flabby picture. Rushdie is the film’s greatest asset and its worst enemy; while the narration reminds you of his prodigious brilliance with words, his emotional ties to his own story mean that vital editing decisions were not made. A solid effort, but ultimately disappointing.

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