Midnight's Children [Blu-Ray] Deepa Mehta

Midnight's Children [Blu-Ray] Deepa Mehta
4
Salman Rushdie's 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel, Midnight's Children, was an ambitious work blending the political history of modern India with magical realism to create a loose post-colonial allegory. Compressing Indian history, it entwined ideologies from the East and West to make the mindset and experience of a globally influenced, newly independent nation into an expansive fable. The protagonist, Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha), was born precisely at midnight on August 15, 1947, endowed with the metaphorical significance of being the embodiment of a new era. He and the many other children birthed during that hour have a telekinetic connection and a resulting litany of X-Men powers that help exaggerate and simplify the eventual Indo-Pakistani War and Indira Gandi's proclamation of emergency, removing basic democratic structures from the Indian people. In trying to adapt this larger-than-life tale for film, Canadian director Deepa Mehta took a loose approach to the material, which was adapted and truncated into an exceedingly expository screenplay by Rushdie. Mehta, whose tendency to go with feeling rather than planning works well with intimate character pieces, isn't the ideal director for a story of this nature. Vacillating between cartoonish playfulness, overdone melodrama, twee romanticism and dry political preaching, Midnight's Children struggles to find any sort of focus in translating the intended emotions and experiences of its characters and story. With so little time dedicated to anything other than plotting, each player is left with little to do other than embody their actions and machinations, possessing few individual distinctions. It's something that's exacerbated by the strained purple prose ("I can smell love") and a miscalculated decision to temper the magical aspect — a telekinetic teenager with a nasal honing beacon — with goofy comedy and awkward whimsy. This wildly erratic tone and lack of guiding vision leave many scenes playing without any effect. For example, Saleem's eventual connection with Parvati, another child of midnight, has no context or significance, playing as little more than a forgettable musical montage amidst an array of very pointed voiceovers lacking subtlety. They meet, cry, walk through the city and fight; she sleeps with Saleem's nemesis, Shiva, and they have a child born into the "Emergency," which is personified by the literal perpetual darkness over India. What's missing are the many emotions and motivators involved in these exchanges; we're rushed through elaborate relationships in a matter of minutes, with shifts in compositional structure and soundtrack that don't relate back to any sort of established stylistic trajectory. The result is a complete lack of investment in the material, which becomes sloppier and less polished as the film slogs on. The commentary track included with the Blu-Ray does little to enlighten the audience and neither does the "behind the scenes" supplement, which covers incidental factoids about casting and prosthetic noses. The intentions were grand, but it's clear Mehta is better suited for smaller projects that don't involve so many shifts in location, time and tone. (Mongrel Media)