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Midnight's Children

It was probably a mistake for Salmon Rushdie not to have stepped aside for another screenwriter when he agreed to let Deepa Mehta film his first literary success, the 1980 novel Midnight’s Children. Especially when you take into account the fact that he’d never written a movie before, at least not one that got produced. He has said he resisted previous offers and efforts, but gave in to Mehta. Was it because of the agreed-to writing responsibility? In that case, the mistake was both of theirs. That the novel is dear to Rushdie’s heart doesn’t seem to have aided them.

It’s also possible that no one should have attempted the task. Midnight’s Children may be resistant to movie adaptation. Judging by the results, it’s a sprawling work spanning historical eras and generations of characters.

The title refers to children born near midnight of August 14, 1947, the hour of Indian independence from the Raj, British colonial rule. Rushdie’s fantastical device is to give these children magical powers, including the ability to convene in dream-like meetings, where the central character, Saleem (Satya Bhabha), born the nearest to 12 a.m., has the most potent magic. This does him little good, for he and his new country come to grief and tragic fates. Rushdie’s other device is to switch Saleem and another baby just after birth in a hospital, a switch made out of political conviction. Mehta and Rushdie pack a lot into their movie saga, too much. There are scenes of poignance, humor, and power, but things feel rushed and truncated. Maybe Rushdie was right to resist the transference in the first place.

Watch the trailer for Midnight's Children

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