How do you go about adapting an epic novel whose scope is as humongous as its legacy… if you are not Peter Jackson? The evident answer is: you don’t. Fanboys (ahem… guilty as charged) may go on a limb and even say: you *can’t*, but every now and then, a Cloud Atlas turns up and proves us wrong. Midnight’s Children, unfortunately, is no Cloud Atlas, and is certainly no Lord of the Rings (and not because it has no Hobbits — in fact, it has Darsheel Safary).
It’s not so much that there’s anything Deepa Mehta, the director, or Salman Rushdie, who has adapted his own book into a screenplay, have done anything wrong, or even anything less, than what they could have done — it’s perhaps that adapting a 600-page novel that spans 60 years and intertwines genres as diverse as magic realism and historical fiction, into a two and a half hour movie, was never going to be easy.
For those who’ve been living under a rock, the story of Midnight’s Children is the story of Saleem (played by Darsheel and Satya Bhabha), who was born at the precise stroke of midnight, and exchanged at birth with the child of an affluent Indian Muslim family, the Sinais. Saleem shares a gift that over a thousand children born between the hours of 12 and 1 — the Midnight’s Children — that historic night, were bestowed with: he has super powers. In a Bryan Singer movie, this could have led to a X-Men type battle between these children and the villainous humans who want to destroy them, but this film sticks largely to Saleem’s story, as he battles his destiny through two wars and the emergency.
To its credit, Midnight’s Children holds your interest for most of its running time, because, well, it *is* a phenomenal story and no matter what you do, you cannot screw it up… beyond a point. But the problem lies with the fact that there’s just too much happening on screen, and there’s too little coherence between it all. There are more characters than the number of years the movie covers, and due to the limitation of its running time, the plots these characters inhabit are half-baked and remain unresolved, not exactly unlike the protagonist of the film, Saleem Sinai.
The screenplay quickly moves from one plot point to another, but not seamlessly, and as a result, before you can properly start connecting with a character, or even, err, lusting for the actor that portrays it (Anita Majumdar as Emerald, woot!), another has been introduced. And before you can start wondering where – and why – did Emerald go, another story begins and ends prematurely, so as much as you’d want to see more of the gorgeous Shriya Saran or the powerhouse Siddharth (playing Parvati and Shiva, two other Midnight’s Children), all you get is a *lot* of Darsheel and Satya.
While both are decent actors and do a pretty good job, they’ve been pitted against some of the finest and most experienced talent our country has to offer, which really isn’t fair to them, and so, the supporting characters register far more than them. The scene stealers are Ronit Roy, who reprises a role similar to the one he did in Udaan, and is just as outstanding again, and Siddharth, who sets the screen ablaze in every scene. Shahana Goswami and Rahul Bose also deliver top-notch performances and everyone else, from the legendary Kulbushan Kharbanda to Saran are a joy to watch.
Mehta does a solid job of direction, given the muddled script, and deserves credit for ‘showing’ so much of the history of India — including a daring section on Indira Gandhi — by showing so little. The cinematography (Giles Nuttgens) makes the film visually powerful and while the background score (Nitin Sawhney) compliments it for the most part, it really could have been less clichéd. Really, when will India stop being represented by flutes in Hollywood? And after such great primary casting, the make up on the fringe characters is annoying, since they look like those Indian stereotypes that Americans see us as.
Largely though, Midnight’s Children is a stunning mess, but it is, ultimately, a mess. For the brave attempt and the fabulous ensemble cast, the movie warrants a singular visit to the theaters, but unlike the novel or the momentous date it is built on, the movie won’t be making it to the history books.