A Rushdie job shows the pen is mightier than film

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN (12A, 146 mins) Drama/Romance. Satya Bhabha, Ronit Roy, Shahana Goswami, Siddharth, Shriya Saran, Seema Biswas, Rajat Kapoor, Shabana Azmi. Director: Deepa Mehta.

Saturday, 5th January 2013, 10:00 am

The pen is mightier than the film camera.

The magical realism of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning novel fails to cast a heady spell on the big screen, even with revered director Deepa Mehta behind the lens.

Midnight’s Children is a slog at almost two and a half hours, based on a script by Rushdie, who provides the mellifluous narration.

He also supplies a prominent quote on the poster: “I am very proud of this film.”

And so he should be – Rushdie serves as one of the executive producers.

Anecdotal in structure, Mehta’s sprawling history lesson will undoubtedly pique the interest of ardent fans of the novel.

It’s highly unlikely, however, that the screen adaptation will be showered with as many awards as the source text, which has twice won the ultimate Booker Of Booker accolade.

At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, explosions of fireworks signify the dissolution of the British Raj and the partition of India and Pakistan.

Across a jubilant India, children are born with magical powers to unsuspecting parents.

Saleem and Shiva are two such babies, one destined for poverty as the son of a street musician, the other for middle-class comfort, until a maternity nurse (Seema Biswas) is swept up in revolutionary fervour and switches the infants’ name tags, thereby robbing Shiva of his privileged birth right.

Saleem (Satya Bhabha) grows up removed from his family.

With a large nose that runs, he doesn’t look like his parents Ahmed (Ronit Roy) and Amina (Shahana Goswami), but his mother loves him unconditionally, unaware of the mix-up in the hospital nursery.

A simple sneeze unlocks Saleem’s ability to telepathically contact the other children born at midnight, and using this mystical bond, the chosen ones plan to pool their amazing capabilities.

However, Shiva (Siddharth) harbours deep resentment towards Saleem and plots to seize control of this band of misfits.

He rises through the ranks of the Indian military, providing Shiva with the authority and firepower to strike down Saleem and his sweetheart, the witch Parvati (Shriya Saran).

Midnight’s Children begins promisingly with a prologue set in 1917 Kashmir, recounting the courtship of Saleem’s grandfather (Rajat Kapoor) and grandmother (Shabana Azmi) through a hole in a bed sheet.

The playfulness and romance of these early scenes dissipates and the pace slows to a pedestrian crawl.

Like the book, Mehta’s film encompasses 60 turbulent years, but sacrifices Shiva’s back story to focus predominantly on Saleem.

Consequently, the narrative feels unbalanced and we don’t share Shiva’s sense of injustice.

Other characters are given similarly short shrift.

The film’s ambition exceeds its grasp and we’re underwhelmed, especially after last week’s magical Indian odyssey, Life Of Pi, which was a feast for every sense.