The story of two children born at the moment of India's independence and swapped at birth, following their lives through a tumultuous era. Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha) and Shiva (Siddarth) grow up living the life meant for the other: one in an affluent family, the other as the penniless son of busker Wee Willie Winkie (Samrat Chakrabarti) who frequents their front garden. They, along with the hundreds of other children born in the hour following India's independence, have special powers; as they grow, India goes through moments of euphoria and disaster.
Review by Louise Keller:
There are so many of India's riches in Deepa Mehta's adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel, with a tale embracing 50 years of the divided country's history, complete with divided loyalties and loves. But the overall impact is diluted by its diffused and long-winded narrative. As a child born in post Independence India, I have a special interest in the subject matter and there is no doubt that Mehta's depiction of the times and lifestyle are spot on in terms of authenticity.
Our interest rises and falls like a boat on the waves as different aspects of the story and the various characters and their relationships intermesh. For me, the emotionally potent first half of this saga is the most successful, depicting a canvas of promise that conveys enigmatic metaphors for the ever-changing political face of India as well as elements of a magical fable.
Rushdie's work canvasses India between 1917 until 1977, beginning with a compelling tale set in Kashmir in which a man with a prominent nose plays a prominent role. The love story lays the groundwork for the key story line in which the two babies symbolically born on the stroke of midnight on the night of India's Independence from Britain are swapped. It is these early scenes that are the most engaging as a newlywed young couple move into Bombay's Buckingham Villa just before its British sahib (Charles Dance) moves out on August 14, 1947.
Narrated by Rushdie himself, the story unfolds from the point of view of Saleem (Satya Bhabha) the bastard boy who is given to the well-to-do Indian family, on whom the weight of expectation is placed. He can be anything he wants to be, he is told... but life, especially for Midnight's Children (those born in that hour after life in India changes forever) is not that simple.
With too much emphasis on subplots and detail that take us out of the mainframe, the film wanders off course for some of the time, before returning to the tangible and allowing us to reconnect with characters and relationships. There are sequences that are sheer magic, while others are a yawn and tend to drag. Bhabha is a strong presence throughout and Seema Biswas is effective as Mary, the well-intentioned nurse whose love for a revolutionary prompts her to switch the babies so the rich can be poor and the poor rich at a time when India and Pakistan reek of each other's blood.
There's no denying the richness of the Indian atmosphere with wide verandas, lush gardens, imagery of children bathing in the brown waters of the Ganges, washing being slapped on the stones, the chaotic rickshaws navigating the streets and the snake charmer with his wriggling brood. This is a case of the film's parts being far more effective than its whole, although there is a rich, dense mood that is established overall.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is a classroom scene in this Deepa Mehta/Salman Rushdie collaboration in which the rather ferocious teacher bangs on about the upcoming topic of study being 'human geography'. The film is itself something of a lesson in the 'human geography' of India, and its blood-born sisters Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is a biopic of a country during some of its most turbulent history in the wake of independence from British rule. Like all great biopics, it is full of humour, tragedy, life, death, love and hate ...
Of course, we're in the hands of a consummate writer and a consummate filmmaker, and the film is a powerful and compelling work, with Rushdie himself narrating from the point of view of the boy whose mother is the busker's wife, but lives as if he were the son of a wealthy family. It's every bit as effective and as important as Irrfan Khan's narration in Life of Pi, and the outcome is full of ironies.
Rushdie's fluent and intelligent prose, soaring into magic realism, is given full voice on screen, where it can truly blossom as a significant tool to communicate on a spiritual level, which for a biopic of India is essential. All the same, these elements carried a challenge and a risk, but by allowing for the intelligence and imagination of the audience, the challenge is met and the risk is rewarded.
One of the most important roles is that of Mary, played to perfection by Seema Biswas, the woman who switches the babies shortly after birth, in a misguided attempt to show her activist lover that she is part of the revolution 'to make the rich poor and the poor rich'. Her journey is moving and surprising, but above all it is in essence the profound, deep seated humanity of India itself. Let me rephrase that: of Indians generally. Official India is hardly ever so nice.
Rich, layered, complex and involving, Midnight's Children is not without humour, nor without love and romance. The film had its second and last Sydney Film Festival screening on the night of the Closing Film, and the 700 seat Cremorne Orpheum was sold out days before. Sometimes, cinema can be this complex, this satisfying, this informative, all at once.
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MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN (M)
CAST: Rajat Kapoor, Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Shabana Azmi, Ronit Roy, Seema Biswas, Rahul Bose, Zaib Shaikh, Shriya Saran, Anita Majumdar, Charles Dance, Kulbhushan Kharbanda
NARRATION: Salman Rushdie
PRODUCER: David Hamilton
DIRECTOR: Deepa Mehta
SCRIPT: Salman Rushdie (novel by Rushdie)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Giles Nuttgens
EDITOR: Colin Monie
MUSIC: Nitin Sawhney
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Errol Kelly, Dilip Mehta
RUNNING TIME: 146 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 17, 2013 (Digital: iTunes, Google Play & Sony Ent)
SPECIAL FEATURES: .
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: July 31, 2013