In a candid conversation, filmmaker Deepa Mehta and author Salman Rushdie talk about Midnight’s Children and their upcoming works.
Deepa, what was the whole journey like, from convincing him to give you the book’s rights to completing the film?
Deepa: From the time Salman started writing the script till when we finished filming, it took us three years. The post-production took longer because of the special effects involved. The best thing I have done as a filmmaker is to make him write the script. He wrote the book so ruthlessly that nobody would have been able to portray it like him. I am so glad that I could finally convince him.
Salman: This is the first time a book of mine is being adapted into a film. I could have taken the money and gone to the premiere. I would have seen the film and exclaimed, ‘Oh! What they have done’. But I decided to be there. It’s an interesting chance to work on the script.
Did you have to go back in time while reworking your book into a film?
Salman: Not time, but I had to go back to the book and find the film in it. To make a film, you have to find a strong storyline because while writing a book you often go on different tangents. This was not the first time you were approached for this book.
Salman: BBC was trying to make a TV series in which Rahul (Bose, actor) would have played the lead. But that fell through. In retrospect, I am glad because Deepa is more appropriate.
Deepa: I loved hearing that!
Now that the film Midnight’s Children is up for release in India, what can we look forward to next from you?
Deepa: I have couple of ideas. I want to do a film on Indian gangsters in Canada. Salman is going to play one. He is a great actor.
Salman: The only other thing I wanted to do in my life [other than write] was to act. During my university days, I was more active as an actor. I’d love to play a gangster if Deepa offers the role to me.
Deepa: I have written it. It is an original story called Beeba Boys.
Salman, can we expect another book from you anytime soon?
Salman: Not really. For the last several months I was busy with my autobiography and this film. I have a couple of ideas, but I have to think about it. I am also doing a TV series for a US television channel, but it’s too early to speak about that.
‘I Don’t know who can play me’
Did you fear objections due to the sensitivity of the subject involved?
Deepa: Why fear for a film that you are going to make? Salman was all right with me making the film. I made sure that there would be no compromise with the integrity of the film. I didn’t want to eliminate the Emergency period — that was such an integral part of the book.
Salman: See, the book is not a surprise. It has been around for 32 years. So there is nothing that could shock people. This is the history of India that we all know. I can’t think why there would be any trouble while making a film on it.
Deepa: I am not a fan of the Censor Board, but when I had to get the film passed through it, they had an historian on board, watching the film; so everything went smoothly.
Salman, did you pitch in during direction as well?
Salman: (Laughs) No, I didn’t take part in it. I knew Deepa would take good care of it. She is perfect at it.
Deepa: He is better than I am.
Salman: If two people get into direction, it could get confusing.
Deepa: When I asked Salman why he didn’t come on the set, he said that he doesn’t need to. He said once the pre-production is done and the film is shot, I will see it. In retrospect, I feel he took an absolutely right decision. That trust was very important for us.
Salman: When the script is set and the cast is decided, then you know what they are going to do and what they are going to say. I was very busy that time (during the shoot). She was doing what she is good at. We met in the cutting room.
Deepa: Salman came to see the rough cut and rushes of the film.
Salman, have you ever been approached by Hollywood filmmakers?
Salman: I don’t think my work is suited to big Hollywood studios. There is some interest now in making films on my biography. I don’t know who can play me, because it’s not about playing me as I am now, but what I was 35 years ago. This project might happen. Negotiations are in process with some studios.
There was a debate on your not being invited for the Jaipur Literary Festival.
Salman: I wasn’t asked and I wouldn’t have gone if I had been asked. I have been there once and it’s not necessary to be there every time. It’s not compulsory to be at literary festivals.
There are a number of such festivals happening everywhere across the world so I can’t be everywhere.