Salman Rushdie is one of those authors that Hollywood has kept at arm’s length for many years. This is hardly surprising, due to the fatwa issued against him after the publication of the highly controversial Satanic Verses. The “unfilmable” nature of Rushdie’s books, and his use of magic realism, could have also contributed to Hollywood giving his work a wide berth.
Midnight’s Children is ambitious in text form, yet on film it is almost torturously dense. Covering 60 years of history on the Indian sub-continent, we watch as various generations of a family deal with major real-life events of the twentieth century. The major plot point however, is the partition of India and its subsequent independence. A number of children born at midnight on the night of the division develop supernatural powers and it falls to them to try to hold things together.
Rushdie was greatly involved in the adaptation of Midnight’s Children. He acted as scriptwriter and executive producer alongside his role as the narrator of the film, as well as having a hand in picking the director and some of the cast.
The problem is that Rushdie is not a filmmaker. There is a certain amount of arrogance in his involvement that leads Midnight’s Children to be so tiresome. The narration plays more like a DVD extra, feeling instead as though the story is being spoon-fed to us.
There are so many characters, so many events and so much background that one is left almost breathless trying to keep up. Forget about engaging with the ancillary characters, just try to keep a handle on the film’s protagonists: Saleem (Satya Bhabha), Shiva (Siddharth) and Parvati (Shriya Saran).
It almost feels as though director Deepa Mehta (Elements trilogy) has to constantly try to wrestle the movie away from Rushdie. Midnight’s Children looks fantastic and there are certain points that are incredibly powerful, but these are so mired in the expanse of Rushdie’s epic that they become forgettable.
Translating a 600-page novel that spans decades into a film was always going to be a monumental challenge. Rushdie’s narration makes the film feel like an abridged audiobook, but at almost three hours, some may feel that it’s not abridged enough. There is a certain depth here but it’s hard to be interested enough to find the deeper meaning.
Watch the trailer for Midnight’s Children here: