Sunday, February 3, 2013

Birth of a Nation

Based on Salman Rushdie’s bestselling novel Midnight’s Children, Deepa Mehta’s film is the closest visual adaptation that the book could possibly get. However, the magical tale about the characters’ notion of identity faces an uphill task in a narrative that struggles throughout the duration of the film to find an identity of its own.

Midnight’s Children is a fascinating story of a group of children born in the magic hour after India’s independence. Focusing on the lives of two characters, who were born on the stroke of midnight, the film narrates the entire story of the children and the country through the words of one of them. From Nehru’s ‘Tryst of Destiny’ speech to Indira Gandhi’s unceremonious declaration of the emergency, the film, like the novel, traces the journeys of the midnight’s children whose destinies have somehow attached themselves to the destiny of the country they were born in.

Rushdie’s poetic descriptions in the novel, of both the characters and the setting, translate marvelously into visuals. And while it strongly retains some delightful elements from the novel, in parts it does deviate from the consistency with which the story flows in the book. Thanks to a detailed background, Deepa Mehta manages to create impeccable characters, all adding a certain value to the narrative whose meaning runs deep.

With some shrewd actors playing most of the important roles, Rajat Kapoor, Rahul Bose, Ronit Roy and Shahana Goswami stand out as the supporting actors who play out their parts with great integrity. Among the leads, Salim, played by Satya Bhabha falls short on screen presence; and Shiva, played by Siddharth, fits the bill perfectly and lives up to his potential. Seema Biswas, who plays the crucial role of the nurse-nanny, requires no critique whatsoever.

Visually pleasing, the only parameter on which the film falls short, is recreating the magic realism and the surreal connection between the midnight’s children. The unexplained background over how they form the bond and how they communicate, multiplied by the unsubstantiated hallucinatory visuals, seem incredible in the worst sense of the word. In the novel, the description is a part of the larger story; however, when seen on screen, it stands out like an eyesore, incongruous to the reality that is being created.

A onetime delight to watch, Midnight’s Children is a great chronicle of the early years of this nation and the lives of its people. However, the film’s over-written screenplay (by Salman Rushdie), with an indecision over what to exclude causes the film to be overloaded with information and a little too long to endure, only proves that an author must never adapt his work on screen himself.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Published in DNA After Hrs (Pune) on February 3, 2013

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