Midnight's Children Movie Review
With an over-written screenplay and far too much material for audiences to digest, this film proves the rule that authors shouldn't adapt their own books into movies. In transferring his prize-winning novel to the big screen, Rushdie leaves in far too much detail while constantly indulging in literary touches that distract us from the story. He also adds his own voice in the form of narration to try and help us through it all. While there are moments of real power and important themes, the film is simply too dense.
The story follows Saleem (Bhabha), who was born at the stroke of midnight when India gained independence in 1947. He was also swapped with another baby in the hospital, which put him in the hands of a wealthy Pakistani couple (Goswami and Roy) while their biological son Shiva (Siddharth) grew up in poverty with a single-father minstrel (Chakrabarti). Oblivious to all of this, these people cross paths with each other over the decades as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh grapple to form distinct nations. And Saleem also discovers that he has the supernatural ability to connect all children born at that same moment, including Parvati (Saran), who becomes inextricably entwined with both Saleem and Shiva.
With its sprawling narrative spanning the entire history of modern-day India, the film feels like a variation on Forrest Gump, as Saleem's life story echoes and intersects with key events. This turns the film into an epic fable, complete with magical touches, huge coincidences and a vast array of side characters that's frankly bewildering. There's also the sense that a very big novel has been crammed into a very long movie, so we are thrown from scene to scene without getting the chance to let the people or events properly sink in. As a result, it's very difficult to feel any sympathy for the characters or anything that happens.
That said, the film is beautifully shot, with a real sense of the light, colour, textures and even smells of the settings. Director Mehta packs scenes with startling details that catch our interest as the decades whisk past. But the core characteristics of Saleem, Shiva and Parvati remain elusive, which makes some of their actions and reactions feel unlikely, while Rushdie's manipulation of their fates seems to be downright harsh. And his overstatement of the central theme wears us out: "In the end, the truth has been less glorious than the promise at birth." Yes, it's an irony overload.