Film Notes: Midnight’s Children

By • Mar 13th, 2013
Category: Books, Movies, Music, Televison, Books and Authors, Film, Film Notes, People, silicon valley

Salman Rushdie and Deepa Mehta -  Midnights's ChildrenMidnight’s Children was the closing night film at the recent Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose. Director Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children is based on Salman Rushdie’s novel by the same namee. Published in 1981 Rushdie won a Booker Prize for this book. He wrote the screenplay and is an executive producer of the film.

Salman Rushdie  won the Maverick Spirit Award at the festival. He sat down to talk about  The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, his autobiography and the film after the screening. Will have more about that in a later post and video.

I was looking forward to watching the film as were the rest of the crowd at California Theatre in San Jose. In a way my mind was a tabula rasa since I never got around to reading the book. I did make some weak attempts to read the book many years ago, but did not succeed. I had no idea about the story line nor the actors in the film. I had deliberately kept it that way. I almost watched the film in Bangalore a couple of months ago, but guess fate had other plans for me?  Was I mysteriously handcuffed to watching Midnight’s Children in Silicon Valley? Was that the plan? Midnight’s Children released  in Bangalore when I was visiting the city. The film got mixed response from what I could gather via word of mouth publicity. And before I could make go to the nearest picture hall in Bangalore the movie was no longer playing. So, here I was on the closing night of   San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival and waiting for the picture to unfold on the big silver screen.

I enjoyed watching the film as did others in the theatre judging by the reception the film got when the curtain came down. ”This is a saga,” is how a member of the audience described the film. And saga is a good way to describe this film that spans about 60 years of turbulent political-social history of the Indian sub-continent that saw the end of British rule and the birth of 3 new countries: India, Pakistan and Bangaldesh. The narrative begins in 1915 in Kashmir during British India and ends in the 1970s in Bombay, India. The central character in the narrative is Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhaba), who is born at the same time that India and Pakistan became independent nations and therein lies a complex tale of betrayal, fate, love and sadness.

Satya Bhaba in Midnight's Children

The barebones version of the story stripped of its magical realism and political allegories goes like this. Dr.Aadam Aziz (Rajat Kapoor) is a young doctor in Srinagar, Kashmir and is summoned by Ghani (Anupam Kher) to examine his daughter Naseem’s (Shabana Azmi) illness. The good doctor ends up marrying Naseem and relocates to Agra to bring up their 3 daughters:Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami), Emerald (Anita Majumdar) and Alia. It is in Agra that the first of the many twists in the plot comes up. Mumtaz falls in love with a political fugitive that the Sinais are sheltering. She ends up marrying him while he is in hiding. He flees their home when Mumtaz’s sister Emerald informs the police that their family is housing a political fugitive.

Mumtaz then ends up marrying Ahmed Sinai (Ronit Roy) and moves to Bombay, where she gives birth to Saleem just as India and Pakistan become independent. Right about the same time there is another child born in the same hospital to Wee Willie Winkie (Samrat Chakraborti), a street singer and his wife. A nurse at the hospital Mary (Seema Biswas) switches the kids at birth under the misplaced socialist influence of her boyfriend. Infused with guilt Mary tries to make amends for her mistakes and ends up becoming a nanny to young Saleem (Darsheel Safary). Saleem discovers that he has a unique ability to listen to conversations of other children or (Midnight’s Children), who share the same birthday with him. Included in this group are Shiva and Parvathi (Shriya Saran), who come to a prominent role in the latter half of the narrative.

Fast forward to the 1960s and Saleem is shipped off to Pakistan to live with his aunt Emerald and her military husband Zulfikar (Rahul Bose). Saleem gets conscripted to fight in the army and ends up in East Pakistan and witnesses the birth of the new state of Bangaldesh in 1971. He somehow ends up making his way back to India, where he is reunited with Parvati. Tragically, she dies when giving birth to her son after having an affair with Shiva. Saleem ends up adopting Parvati’s son and through another twist in the story ends up reuniting with his old nanny Mary.

There are quite a few twists and turns in the narrative. A certain familiarity with the political and social history of the Indian sub-continent comes in handy to fill in the gaps or connect the threads in the narrative. Mehta does a deft job at weaving the political and social strands in the film.

If you missed watching Midnight’s Children here is your chance to see it at the Castro Theatre on March 17, 2013 at the CAAMFest in San Francisco.

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