First Night: Midnight's Children, Toronto Film Festival

2.00

Easy drama doesn't work as an allegory of India and Pakistan's complex relationship

The adaptation of Salman Rushdie's 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children was shrouded in mystery during production.

The cast had secrecy clauses written into their contracts and when shooting began in February 2011, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the film was being made under the pseudonym Winds of Change.

Sri Lanka was chosen as it was considered too risky to film the tale in India or Pakistan, where it is actually set.

And Rushdie was certainly not the only controversial person attached to the project.

Canadian director Deepa Mehta had previously created a stir in India when Hindu fundamentalists called for her film Fire to be banned because of its lesbian protagonists; upon release cinemas showing the film in Delhi and Mumbai were fire-bombed and attacked. Her follow-up film, Water, was shut down for four years after a 2,000-strong group of protesters rampaged through the set.

Pakistan is a tough place to film in any circumstances and impossible for any film with The Satanic Verses author attached. But Sri Lanka, where Mehta eventually ended up filming Water, was not exactly the soft option. In 1997, the BBC tried to film a five-part television version of Midnight's Children there, but the government withdrew permission after protests from Muslims.

Audiences watching Midnight's Children the movie, unveiled at the Toronto Film Festival, will wonder what all the fuss is about. The plot, about children born in the hour after partition in 1947 who have supernatural powers, avoids controversy and shies away from commenting on the political and religious turmoil in the region. It is advisable to know a potted history of the region before watching the film, as there is little in the way of explanation as the story whizzes through the decades.

Rushdie was charged with adapting the novel himself, and the main structural change is the inclusion of a third-person narrator voiced by the author himself. It's a device that creates as many problems than it solves.

Initially his words provide a poetic lyricism, introducing big-nosed Saleem (Satya Bhabha) and his Sinai family. Their various shenanigans are described in lush detail, with myriad weddings and divorces and an electric soundtrack, and it all feels very romantic.

But by the time the narrator describes how a nurse (Seema Biswas), in a foolish act of love and political defiance, exchanges a rich child with an orphaned pauper, the narrative device has become clunky. The narrator then disappears for huge chunks of the movie, only reappearing to explain narrative jumps and linking the episodic storytelling.

Mehta's strengths lie in depicting family drama and emotional turmoil. The scenes at home have far more impact than those depicting war. The best involve Saleem with his "father" and "sister". The director also manages the tricky use of the metaphysical extremely well.

Less convincing is the central bond between the two swapped infants Saleem and Shiva (Siddharth). Shiva is never given enough screen time to make him a fully rounded character. He's a bit of a brute and the "nature" versus "nurture" side of the story is underplayed.

The juxtaposition between the two characters is designed for easy drama and is never complex enough to work as an allegory of the complex relationship between India and Pakistan.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot