So in consideration of the challenge involved, I’d say the film is a job well-done. Yes, there are flaws, and the second half is a muddled mess, but still, Midnight’s Children remains inherently watchable.
The story starts off with the wise words: ‘The most important things happen in your life when you’re not there.’ This is Saleem Sinai taking us to before his birth.
We see how his doctor grandfather (‘There are generations waiting inside that nose’, praises a boatman) with that exceptional nose falls in love with a patient. They give birth to three daughters, one of whom is destined to become Saleem’s mother. Not the biological one anyway, for if you’ve read the book, you’ll know that the rich and poor baby, both belonging to different religions are swapped by the nurse. In that sense, the two babies steal each other’s lives. And Saleem Sinai, our protagonist, lives with Amina (Shahana Goswami) and Ahmed (Ronit Roy) Sinai not knowing he is not their real son.
Since he was born at the stroke of midnight of India’s independence, he is one of those Midnight’s Children he calls upon in his mind. With a twitch of his nose, he can summon all the Midnight’s Children for a conference in his head. Each seems to have a special magical gift; his being that he can gather everyone in his mind. His nose has the exceptional quality also, of being able to smell love and the “aroma of failure”.
Being born at the midnight of India’s Independence links him inseparably to the fate of the country (“handcuffed to history” as the book calls it). So as they turn 10, both are facing the weight of expectations. The film then takes us through Saleem describing the 1965 India-Pak battle – ‘a war between both my countries’. Then the forming of Bangladesh, India’s nuclear tests in '74, and finally the Emergency.
The film is a visual treat. From the stunning clothes and homes to the crackling crispness of a Delhi morning – cinematographer Giles Nuttgens captures it beautifully. The lilting background score by Nitin Sawhney is another plus. Director Deepa Mehta (Fire, Earth, Water) makes a film that folds in love, politics, history and romance expertly.
The cast does exceptionally well. Satya Bhabha seems an unusual choice for Saleem, but his vulnerability and earnestness win us over. Shahana Goswami, Siddharth, Shriya Saran, Rahul Bose and the supporting cast is exceptional.
But in the end, the star of the film is still the book. You revel in the deceptively simple lines from the book, like, ‘I had many families but no family’, ‘Midnight’s Children were promises of Independence, and like all promises, meant to be broken.’
Midnight’s Children is an extraordinary story of magic and survival. You enjoy the movie such that it tempts you to revisit the book. Worth a watch!
Rating: Three and a half stars