out of Five
Running time: 148
Salman Rushdie writes, executive produces and narrates this sprawling, slavishly faithful adaptation of his own novel, with decidedly mixed results; there are some beautiful moments and some decent performances, but it's also something of a slog and ultimately fails to engage on an emotional level.
What's it all about?
Directed by Deepa Mehta, Midnight's Children is adapted from the award-winning 1980 novel by Salman Rushdie, who's on triple duty here as screenwriter, executive producer and narrator. It begins in Kashmir in 1917, with the courtship of the narrator's grandparents and moves swiftly forwards to midnight on 15 August 1947, when the narrator, Saleem Sinai, is born at the stroke of midnight, as India receives its independence.
However, the boy is promptly swapped with the baby of a poor street-singer and grows up with rich family the Sinais, cared for by the woman who swapped him in the first place, Nurse Mary (Seema Biswas). Years later, with Saleem now a teenager (played by Satya Bhabha), Nurse Mary confesses her crime and Saleem is sent off to Pakistan where his uncle General Zulfika (Rahul Bose) is preparing a coup on the eve of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War. Meanwhile, Saleem discovers he has the power to mentally summon all the children who were born on the stroke of midnight, including Shiva (Siddharth), the Sinai's biological son, who becomes his sworn enemy.
Satya Bhabha is fine, if a little bland as Saleem; he's a frustratingly passive character throughout, which makes it difficult to warm to him. However, there's strong support from Biswas, Bose and Shriya Saran as Parvati, one of the other Midnight Children, who becomes Saleem's lover. The film is also beautifully shot, courtesy of Giles Nuttgens' colourful cinematography and Mehta orchestrates some engaging individual sequences; the moment Nurse Mary confesses to the Sinais, for example, is pure soap opera and genuinely riveting.
The problem is Rushdie's script remains slavishly faithful to his own novel throughout, which makes for something of a slog, particularly given the arse-numbing 148 minute running time. Ultimately, the experience is exhausting, to the point where you cease to care about any of the characters.
On top of that, Rushdie's narration is delivered in a flat, droning style, which eventually has a soporific effect, while the tendency to hammer home and underline every allegorical moment quickly becomes tedious. In addition, the magical realism moments don't really work, because the script doesn't do enough to set them up beforehand, so they're frustrating and distracting rather than charming and whimsical.
Despite decent performances and a handful of striking moments, Midnight's Children is ultimately something of a slog thanks to a dense, sprawling screenplay that's so slavishly faithful that you feel like you've read every one of the book's 700 pages by the end of it.