Skip to main content

Film Reviews Midnight’s Children: Deepa Mehta captures the scope of Salman Rushdie’s tale but not its spirit

A scene from “Midnight’s Children”

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Midnight’s Children
Written by
Salman Rushdie
Directed by
Deepa Mehta
Starring
Shahana Goswami, Rajat Kapoor, Satya Bhabha
Genre
Drama
Classification
PG
Year
2012

Salman Rushdie's 1981 novel, Midnight's Children recounts the life of a man of destiny, Saleem Sinai, born on the stroke of midnight on India's independence day and thus "handcuffed to history" throughout his life. Deepa Mehta's new film is, similarly, handcuffed to the novel, making it watchable without ever feeling essential. Running well over two hours, the film delivers the key events of Rushdie's sprawling 60-year, border-hopping, tragic-comical story like a series of parade floats of key scenes, illustrating moments of whimsy and mild melodrama.

The mistake here is to aim for the scope of Rushdie's book rather than its trickster spirit. (One can imagine Michel Gondry or Terry Gilliam tackling this material). That's not to say that Indian-Canadian Mehta, best known for her trilogy of films about the lives of ordinary Indian women, Earth, Fire and the Oscar-nominated Water, has betrayed Rushdie's vision. On the contrary, Rushdie wrote the screenplay, served as executive producer and offers the wryly avuncular voice-over of the protagonist, Saleem.

Rushdie has also chosen to include long introductory scenes of family history before Saleem arrives on the screen. We begin with a humorous domestic tableaux of colonial Kashmir, where Saleem's putative grandfather, Dr. Aziz (Rajat Kapoor), gets wed to one of his patients at the end of the First World War. Later, the doctor's adult daughter, heads to Bombay with her merchant husband, where she gives birth to a son at the magic moment of Indian independence.

Story continues below advertisement

A pediatric nurse, and later a nanny, Mary (Seema Biswas), in a moment of revolutionary fervour, switches the middle-class couple's son with the child of itinerant musicians, though the actual father is cocktail-swigging British aristocrat (Charles Dance), Thus, Saleem is raised in middle-class discomfort with his drunken father and unhappy mother, while the disinherited Shiva begs with his busker father.

Moving ahead a few years to the magic part of our story, when the 10-year-old Saleem (Darsheel Safary) discovers his ability, by sniffing his nose, to summon (in soft-focus) the spirits of hundreds of children from across India, born at the hour of Indian independence. Each of the 581 surviving children possesses a special gift, though only two are important: Shiva, the boy whose life Saleem stole, is a fierce fighter, while Parvati is a spell-weaving witch. The three are intertwined again as adults in the film's slum-set last act when Shiva (Siddharth), now a ruthless military commander, and Saleem, following six years of amnesia, become involved with the beautiful adult witch, Parvati (Shriya Saran) against the background of Indira Gandhi's brutal emergency measures.

The struggle here is establishing drama among characters we've barely gotten to know. The ensemble cast, studded with Bollywood stars, offers bright performances tempered to the fable-like nature of the narrative (Rahul Bose as a vain Pakistani general is a standout), but too often, as with Biswas's nurse, limited screen time undermines the character's impact. By spreading itself so thin, Midnight's Children brushes by without leaving its imprint.

Editor's Note: The film is well over two hours. Incorrect information in an earlier version of this article has been corrected.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter