Published Nov 01, 2012In adapting his magical, realist, postcolonial allegory for the Indian partition to screenplay form, Salman Rushdie, who also narrates the film, removes the central autobiographical monologue of a framing device from protagonist Saleem (Satya Bhabha) for a more straightforward and convenient storytelling aid.
It travels back in time, prior to Saleem's conception ― noting that the most important things in life happen when we are not present ― detailing how his doctor grandfather came to meet his bride and have three very different daughters.
Though being a rather literal adaptation, as helmed by the traditionally flat and inconsistent Deepa Mehta, this onslaught of expository context nearly buries the central conceit of the story, which is the titular midnight's children.
Born on the hour that India gained independence from Great Britain, Saleem (the child of a penniless busker) is switched at birth with a rich baby by a nurse (Seema Biswas), who later becomes his nanny, thus giving him a chance to become something important in the world.
His ability to link psychically with the other several hundred children similarly born around midnight becomes merely a crux from which to spew the occasional line of political wisdom and build conflict between Saleem and his nemesis, Shiva (Siddarth), once knowledge of his birthright comes to the surface.
If handled with the same whimsical, magical context in which it was originally written, making the clumsy metaphor of familial definition one for a post-colonial crisis of identity more spiritual than flat, something powerful could have come from this bloated adaptation. But in staying too close to the literal plot elements of the central text, as framed with little visual consistency or lyricism by Mehta's banal, almost desultory eye, the story plods along listlessly, throwing out voiceovers whenever backed into a self-imposed corner.
Resultantly, watching Midnight's Children is much like enduring an arduous school assignment. The intended emotional connection is void, since the many characters come off as mere ciphers, limited to working within repetitive, uninspired plot machinations and much as the magic is nullified by an inability to translate feeling to the screen.
If anything, the lack of risk-taking and fear of imposing perspective ultimately make this overlong exercise in ego moot, working as a superficial Cole's Notes version of the source novel and resultantly missing the point. (Mongrel Media)