Critics see too much Rushdie in Midnight's Children film

Sep 10, 2012

Salman Rushdie's new screenplay offers 'a vibrant journey, but not a terribly illuminating one'

SALMAN RUSHDIE has not only written the script for the film adaptation of his book Midnight's Children, he also narrates large chunks of it himself. But critics have complained that this means no fresh light is shed on the material.
Rushdie spent two years distilling his 1980 Booker Prize winner into a screenplay about the two Indian boys, one rich and one poor, swapped at birth moments after India gained independence in 1947.
The author's influence meant the film, directed by Deepa Mehta, was "never likely to have been a travesty of his novel", says The Guardian. But it also makes it "the world's least essential adaptation".
"It sheds no fresh light on the material, turns and turns but with no new spin, fails to pepper the source," says The Guardian. "This is self-defeating faithfulness, which genuflects so far as to insist the audience can't be released for some 148 minutes, and employs actors perfectly cast to the point of blandness."
Rushdie's decision to include his own third-person narration creates as many problems as it solves, says The Independent. It initially provides a "poetic lyricism" but later becomes "clunky".

"The narrator then disappears for huge chunks of the movie, only reappearing to explain narrative jumps and linking the episodic storytelling."
Less convincing is the bond between the two swapped infants, adds The Independent. "The juxtaposition between the two characters is designed for easy drama and is never complex enough to work as an allegory of the complex relationship between India and Pakistan."
The Daily Telegraph says that "as a parable for modern India's birth pangs and troubled growth, it could hardly be more squarely on the nose”. But it is not Rushdie who can take credit for the central character Saleem's resonance with the audience.
"Mehta can count her lucky stars, at least, that London-born actor Satya Bhabha, playing the grown Saleem, has enough presence and charisma to register as a persuasive human being,” says the Telegraph, “because Rushdie's script does its best to reduce him to a cut-out-and-keep emblem of national pluck and progress."
At the film's premiere in Toronto this weekend, Mehta revealed that no Indian distributor had yet bought rights to the film. Both Rushdie and Mehta have a troubled history in India, with Rushdie's 1988 book The Satanic Verses still banned in his homeland.
While many distributors claim it is "purely a business decision", trade analysts have suggested that distributors might be scared of the film’s political references.
But Variety says there doesn't appear to be much that would rile the locals in this film, describing Mehta's treatment of the story as "a Disney-clean metaphor for the country's post-colonial identity crises".
"It's a vibrant journey," says Variety, "but not a terribly illuminating one, building to a big reunion between two characters in which the inevitable response is not tears of joy, but relief for having reached the end."

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