Disclaimer: no fatwa was issued during the making of Deepa Mehta’s epic adaptation of Midnight’s Children—although parts of the production did in fact take place, for security reasons, under the cover of a decoy title. (It’s not always easy being Salman Rushdie.) Based on the 1981 book that Indira Gandhi herself tried to censor (she successfully managed to have one sentence excised) the wildly ambitious story involves two newborns from opposite castes who are switched at birth at the very moment (the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947) that India achieved independence. “Let the rich be poor and the poor be rich,” intones one of the countless quotable characters.
The Booker Prize–winning tome was considered unfilmable—perhaps because few have actually managed to finish reading it. Rushdie himself wrote the script, provides the voiceover (the unreliable narrator!), and has given the film his official seal of approval. So now, for us illiterates, there really is no excuse.
Mehta’s vision is appropriately grand. With lush color and meticulous detail, periodic bouts of magic realism, and wide-eyed performances, she creates a veritable cinematic monsoon of postcolonial dream storytelling (with occasional nightmare interludes). With so much going on, and on so many quasi-historic planes, the viewer can’t grasp any particular dramatic thread for very long. But, again, that doesn’t really matter: amidst all the exuberance on screen, a major literary work has been given a new and accessible form of life.