Salman Rushdie says he was “completely blindsided” when the Iranian government tried to shut down production on Midnight’s Children last year.
The acclaimed novelist – who spent most of the 1990s in hiding after Iranian leaders put a bounty on his head for his book The Satanic Verses – says he had believed his troubles with that country were long behind him.
But then Iran suddenly demanded the movie adaptation of Midnight’s Children halt production in Sri Lanka.
“It really was out of left field – it’s so long since they’d expressed any interest that it was kind of nostalgic,” Rushdie joked during a round of interviews Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“Especially as this was Midnight’s Children. This has got nothing to do with even the book that they decided to be displeased by. This is a book that’s never been in trouble.”
Production was stalled for several days while Canadian director Deepa Mehta and producer David Hamilton pleaded with the Sri Lankan government to allow filming to continue. In the end, they did.
“I don’t know whether it was a low-level functionary trying to just please his bosses, you never know quite what happened, who said what to whom,” Rushdie says of what sparked the shutdown in the first place.
“I’m just happy that we were able to solve it so quickly.”
In 1989, Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or death sentence, against Rushdie in response to his novel The Satanic Verses. Leaders ordered Muslims to kill the British writer over what they considered blasphemous writings.
Rushdie and his family were forced into hiding for a decade. The edict was lifted in 1998.
Rushdie declined to delve into comment on Canada’s recent decision to cut ties with Iran, admitting “truthfully, my interest in Iran ended at the point at which they stopped trying to kill me.”
But he differed with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s assessment of Iran as “the most significant threat to world peace.”
Baird announced Friday that Canada is shuttering its embassy in Iran and severing relations with the country amid allegations it is developing atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful energy purposes.
Rushdie said he is more concerned about Pakistan, noting it is unstable and already has nuclear weaponry at hand.
These days, Rushdie says his eye is more closely trained on relations between Pakistan and India, which also has an atomic arsenal.
Although Midnight’s Children was published some 30 years ago, Rushdie says many of the issues it delves into still plague the world today: religious sectarianism, political corruption, violence and war.
“It’s always bad. The world is always terrible,” said Rushdie, who is also preparing to release a memoir, Joseph Anton, that partly deals with his decade in hiding.
“Fortunately for writers, because then you’ve got something to write about.”