'Midnight's Children' film crew banned by Sri Lanka

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The Independent Online
Sri Lanka reversed an earlier decision yesterday in deciding to refuse the BBC permission to film Midnight's Children on the island. Peter Popham reports.

It's not only Salman Rushdie who is on the run: his brain-children fare no better. Yesterday it was learned that the Sri Lankan government announced that it had withdrawn permission for the BBC to make a serialised adaptation of Rushdie's first big success, Midnight's Children on the island.

Preparations for the filming were already far advanced. Locations had been chosen in Colombo, the capital, Candy, the historical capital in the interior and at sites in the south. Permission was given in October and the 14-week shoot was expected to start at the end of January.

Chris Hall, producer of the adaptation, said: "We are deeply disappointed that permission to film this epic story has now been withdrawn, following earlier agreement from the government of Sri Lanka and the National Film corporation. The BBC originally hoped to film in Bombay, the book's principal location, but after protracted negotiations the government of Maharashtra decided against it.

India has one of the largest Muslim populations of any country, and official Indian involvement in any project connected to Rushdie must arouse political qualms. India is also habitually sensitive to foreign film- makers pointing their cameras into the seamier aspects of Indian life, as Chris Hall could hardly have failed to do in adapting a work that relishes the grand realities of India. The Indian refusal was therefore unsurprising.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is becoming an important location for foreign film-making: three major films are in production there at the moment. When the intention to make Midnight's Children on the island was announced, there were some protests from the Muslim community, but yesterday's news took the BBC by surprise. A pre-production team was already at work in the island. They will now return to London.