Salman Rushdie is a prolific, accomplished and influential writer. Midnight’s Children won Rushdie the 1981 Booker Prize and was also voted the Best of the Bookers in 1993 and 2008 as part of the best of 40 and 75 years of the Booker Award respectively. Rushdie collaborated with Deepa Mehta to adapt Midnight’s Children for the screen, the result being a colourful 146 minute exploration of generational divides. The film begins with a whimsical introduction to how Saleem’s grandfather met his grandmother. This introduces the unconventional nature in which the family’s successive generations find their partners. While Saleem’s Aunt opts for a relatively conventional marriage, his mother falls for an unfortunate but innocent fugitive. Saleem is born into an independent India, and as he grows older he learns that, along with others born at that midnight hour of a new India, he is endowed with special abilities.
Saleem’s parents represent the beginnings of a different way of living and thinking, a way that might be fully realised in the children of an independent India However, at points I found it difficult to relate to the older generation’s anger and disgust at the younger generation’s choices and perspectives. Some of this might be attributed to cultural differences, but even so, a few reactions seemed violently misplaced, and the courtship and match-making felt incongruous in a film that seemed directed at portraying new thinking and changing ideologies. I found that the fast pace of character change hindered viewers from finding a focal point for the plot and the themes ofMidnight’s Children. While this first section of the film might be construed as a prelude, it nevertheless should have generated enough suspense and direction to help sustain the viewers’ interest.
Some of this bewilderment might make more sense if the film is situated within a fabular context. The almost mythical aspect of the children’s powers helps to develop a magical atmosphere that is reflected in the colourful and stylistic tone on-screen. The juxtaposed characters of Saleem and Shiva represent the two routes India can choose. However, at times I felt this meaning was less organically developed than forced upon the audience, as in the scene where Shiva appears atop a roof on a motorbike, lightning splitting the sky behind him. In scenes such as this I feel the film would benefit from a greater commitment to either reality or fantasy. Somehow the magic realism does not quite feel sufficiently defined.
Lives, and more specifically those of the midnight childrens’, unfold in parallel to India’s moment of independence and its aftermath. As in life, mistakes are made and lessons learned; life contains good and bad people, setbacks, moments of success and failure and ultimately good should come from this. If the supernatural powers of the midnight child are meant to symbolise something greater, this isn’t displayed very clearly in the film; in retrospect, I find the powers interesting as a concept but difficult to justify
Overall, the film struggles to find its identity, caught between the fabular and the allegorical. The acting and camerawork is excellent but the sense of humour so integral to the novel could have been developed further. Mehta’s Midnight’s Children may offer a colourful and varied representation of India but the viewer is not encouraged to engage with or to explore the meaning and importance of India’s independence.