Critics review: Midnight's Children disappoints
The screen adaptation of Salman Rushdie's much-talked about novel Midnight's Children has been in the news both for its controversial director (Deepa Mehta) as well the screenplay writer (the author himself). But here's why the film has failed to impress the critics.Updated: Feb 01, 2013 14:13 IST
Director: Deepa Mehta
Screenplay: Salman Rushdie
Plot Synopsis: A pair of children, born within moments of India gaining independence from Britain, grow up in the country that is nothing like their parent's generation.
Based on controversial British author Salman Rushdie's novel, Midnight's Children has been in the news for a while. And now, after courting controversies for almost a year, Deepa Mehta and Rushdie's much-talked about film has finally released in India. But does it deliver? Critics are disappointed and here's why:
Roshni Devi, KoiMoi.com
Salman Rushdie may be the stalwart of magic realism when it comes to books, but you can’t say the same about his skills on the big screen. The adaptation of his Booker Prize winning novel with the same title does not work. One of the reasons is that the movie delves into Saleem’s ancestors needlessly. The narrational flaws seep into the film so much that the entire parallel of the lives of the midnight children and the two countries born/torn at the same time is lost in the whirlwind of characters who already take too much time to establish themselves on screen.
Yet, as you sit through Deepa Mehta's film adaptation of the novel, it becomes increasingly clear that Rushdie, who spent his boyhood watching some of the greatest films of the time in Bombay, was of a different persuasion.
Even though he has admitted to having to let go of some key scenes as he wrote the screenplay, he's done a fine job of adapting his protagonist Saleem Sinai's life story for screen.Unlike the book, Mehta's Midnight's Children follows a linear narrative and makes for an engaging, tightly written first half.
There are only two jarring characters in an otherwise good lineup of actors -- Rahul Bose's Zulfikar and Sathya Bhabha's Saleem Sinai. And while the breathtaking Shriya Saran and ruggedly handsome Siddharth play their parts ably as the other key children -- Parvati and Shiva respectively -- of the momentous midnight, it's Sathya Bhabha's Saleem that lets you down.
For a protagonist, he displays fewer genuine emotions than one would have liked.
The film's second half succeeds in the sense that it makes us despair a bit -- all the good things that the first half promises don't really materialise in the second, much like the disillusioned Saleem and empty hopes of post-Independence era India.
What you get for the bargain is a hauntingly melodious background score and magical shots of celebratory fireworks, moving snapshots from a war-ravaged Bangladesh and Saleem dancing to Aao twist karen with younger sister Jamila.
Verdict: Midnight's Children is a must watch for people who've yearned to experience Salman Rushdie's iconic storytelling in a more accessible format.
Philip French, The Observer, The Guardian
You wait a year for a film version of a Booker prize-winning magical realist novel largely concerned with people from the Indian subcontinent and widely considered to be unfilmable. Then suddenly two come along: Life of Pi and Midnight's Children. The lesser of the two, though a movie of ambition and distinction, Midnight's Children was published in 1981 and is adapted for the screen by its author Salman Rushdie, who also delivers the eloquent narration, a reworking of the book's framing device.
Rushdie's brilliant insight was to bring together the private and public lives of those involved by inventing a mystical bond between the children born around the midnight hour of 17 August 1947...He and his peers are given special powers (prophecy, magic, metamorphosis) in exchange for terrible responsibilities, and they become the embodiment of the best hope of the two nations during a period of bad faith, violence and the betrayal of democracy....So the central characters have divided identities, a situation made even more complex by the concealed paternity (from a European source) of one of them. The lesser of these charismatic children suffers most through the dropping of sub-plots and the trimming of character and loss of nuance demanded by reducing the film to some 150 minutes.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
For Salman Rushdie, modesty must be something that troubles other people. “I am very proud of this film,” reads his glowing endorsement on the posters for Midnight’s Children, a film that Rushdie has spent two years faithfully adapting from his own 1981 Booker Prize-winning magic-realist novel.
Rushdie also (and this is quite sweet before it gets annoying) has absolutely no idea when to pipe down and let the actors and cameras do their job. His earnest voiceover over-explains the plot to the point of redundancy. Watching Midnight’s Children often feels like Rushdie is sitting beside you in the cinema, forever grinning hopefully and nudging you in the ribs.
Why didn’t Mehta rein in her collaborator? Did she dare, or care? India is a voguish destination for English and American directors, and Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) are three recent films with a rapturous outsider’s-eye-view of the subcontinent.
To an extent Mehta apes them all, but Midnight’s Children and its visual engagement with India should have transcended the touristic. The New Delhi section in particular feels like a Slumdog pastiche: we’re in the gutter looking at the sitars. Considering Midnight’s Children is bound up in notions of identity, it is faintly disastrous that this adaptation should be so lacking in one of its own.
Verdict: Midnight's Children is Salman Rushdie's first screenplay, and his novelistic approach to storytelling has resulted in an unfocused, meandering script.
Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter
Nothing less than an epic, panoramic look at the history of India and Pakistan over a 50-year period, the film is ambitious and often sumptuous to watch but not always dramatically satisfying. The film is seeking distribution, and even with Rushdie’s name attached, this one faces an uphill battle in penetrating the American market.
It may be that this fanciful tale isn’t well suited to Mehta’s talents, or it could be simply too challenging to blend this kind of whimsy with dramatic reconstructions of major cataclysms in Asian history.
There are moments of wit and charm, and some of the tumultuous crowd scenes have unmistakable urgency. Although most of the movie was actually shot in Sri Lanka, it boasts a vivid evocation of Agra, Bombay, Karachi, and many other cities. Cinematography and production design are first-rate, and the lovely musical score by Nitin Sawhney also enhances the film.
Despite the solid work of cast and crew, the film dawdles and fails to justify its two-and-a-half-hour running time. Midnight reaches its tender conclusion without ever achieving the emotional or dramatic heft that such an epic tale requires.
Verdict: Faithful Salman Rushdie adaptation might play better at a literary convention than at the cineplex.