I must confess, I’ve never read a Salman Rushdie book. Nor have I ever seen a Deepa Mehta film. The latter is more shocking considering what a film nerd I am and the fact that my parents were casual friends with Mehta back when they lived in Toronto, the city of my birth. Mehta used to live next door to my mother’s long-time friend and business associate. Their daughters are quite close. That changed with my viewing of Midnight’s Children.
I learned more about the history of India and Pakistan (and Bangladesh) from watching this movie than I did from any high school social studies class or history textbook. Shot mostly in English and Hindi and based off the book by the same name (Rushdie also wrote the screenplay and narrates the film), the film follows the life of two boys, both born at midnight on August 14, 1947 – the day of India’s independence – who were switched at birth. The film is acted beautifully by a handful of mostly unknown Indian actors.
Satya Babha shows great range and subtlety as Saleem Sinai, the poor boy who grows up in a rich family, and becomes the leader (in his dreams) of children born close to midnight – all of whom have varying degrees of magical powers.
Siddharth plays Shiva, born at exactly the same time to the rich family and then swapped for the slums. The film also has some Canadian faces. Little Mosque on the Prairie’s Zaib Shaikh appears as the poet Nadir Khan, while Vancouver beauty Anita Majumdar (no relation to Shaun) pops up as Saleem’s aunt Emerald. Look for Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance and Bollywood legend Anupam Kher in small roles.
The story could very well have been a tragic one; the film spans two wars, treacherous politics, and many power struggles, but Rushdie manages to infuse wit and humour (and some magic) into this already riveting film. Combine Rushdie’s brilliant words, with Mehta’s effervescent direction, and you have the makings of a Genie Award-winning film.
The film was not without its troubles however. Mehta, who is no stranger to pushback and the web of Indian politics, shot the film secretly in Sri Lanka in 2011. They feared persecution in Pakistan and the shooting was almost suspended by Sri Lankan authorities until the government allowed it to continue. A choice that was well worth it.
Midnight’s Children has so many layers: history, love, tragedy, magic, mysticism, social class, war, politics; it’s impossible not to get at least a little bit emotional after viewing it. With the current troubles in the middle east, and diplomatic relations with Pakistan hazy at best, this film could not come at a more important time
Midnight’s Children opens November 2nd in Major cities across Canada.