Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movie review: Midnight's Children

Director: Deepa Mehta
Starring: Satya Bhabha, Siddharth

If there was any proof that the CBFC has progressed in this country, it is inMidnight's Children. Sarita Choudhary, bearing a startling resemblance to Indira Gandhi, is shown dispensing with the nation's freedoms, sterlising people, demolishing settlements, rounding up dissidents, setting off a long night without light. In fact Deepa Mehta in interviews has remarked with some surprise on how the film got away with no cuts. As she told India Today last week, "I don't believe in censorship at all but knowing that was something we had to go through with the film, I can't believe how strong they were and we came through without a cut. I was shocked. It was very interesting that they had a historian at the screening who looked at the film and said it was accurate." The lunatic fringe may be busy painting India as an intolerant society but it's good to note that the Censor Board has grown up, and doesn't have to look over its shoulder at the Gandhi family to see if they will be offended.

At one point there is a debate in the movie between Satya Bhabha's Salim and Siddharth's Shiva. Is life about ideas or things? Perhaps Mehta should have chosen to go with ideas, just as Ang Lee chose the idea of Yann Martel's Life of Pi and made it into a gorgeous 3D fantasy. There are some parts in Midnight's Children, the movie, which are almost as surreal in the book--most notably when Delhi is shown under a permanent cloud, the light drowned out for years as it were. But most of it is terribly literal and has a cottage industry air. Granted it's a difficult film to stage, moving from one epic event to another. There's freedom at midnight, the 1971 war, the Emergency years. Yet there is a feel that the scale could have been bigger, more spectacular.

Mehta tries hard. She's assembled an impressive cast, from veterans such as Shabana Azmi, Seema Biswas and Kulbhushan Kharbanda to surprises such as Shahana Goswami, Shriya Saran, Soha Ali Khan, and Darsheel Safary, who is quite brilliant as the young Salim who has to bear the burden of his father's expectations. Newcomer Satya Bhabha is awfully accented as Salim Sinai, exchanged at birth with Shiva, played by Siddharth (who tries hard to look like a toughie from the streets who metamorphoses into a war hero). Ronit Roy as Ahmed Sinai looks as if he has strayed from the sets of Udaan, playing Salim's father, who has given up on life. And Soha Ali Khan comes alive briefly dancing to Aao Twist Karein.

Each era has its signature shorthand--1950s Mumbai with its genteel tea cafe which encourages glass kissery, the Mujib posters as Bangladesh is liberated, the grabs of Indira Gandhi speaking from Red Fort.

But just as the truth of freedom is less glorious than the dream, so is the film less magical than the book. I would have settled for less of it, even an abrogated version of it as Mrs Gandhi's war on the 420 Midnight's Children cast as some sort of war between the State and X-Men. It would have possibly been more watchable.

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