Midnight's Children (2012)

Director: Deepa Mehta
Cast: Satya BhabhaShahana GoswamiRajat Kapoor
Plot: A pair of children, born within moments of India gaining independence from Britain, grow up in the country that is nothing like their parent's generation.

Genre: Drama
Awards: -
Runtime: 146min
Rating: NC16


IN RETROSPECT (Guest reviewed by Florence Yeo)
Saleem Sinai is a midnight's child, born at the precise moment of India's independence from British rule on Aug 15, 1947. And like all the children born during the first magic hour of that day, he has a special gift.

With the well practiced sniff of his overly large drippy nose (an unconvincing nasal prosthesis), Saleem is able to bring together telepathically all of India's midnight's children. Crammed into his bedroom, they squabble endlessly and accomplish little - an allusion, I suppose, to India's ineffectual attempts to unite her diverse population.

For you see, despite the teenage mutant X-Men-like powers, this is no superhero movie. Instead, the tongue-in-cheek humour and injections of magical realism are there to underscore the tumultuous sociopolitical history of post-war India, and the complex questions of national and personal identity.

But what a muddled movie this is. Clocking in at close to two and a half hours, and spanning four generations over 60 years, Midnight's Children feels like it is trying to cram in every plot point of Salman Rushdie's much acclaimed, multi-awarded novel of the same name.

I do not like comparing films to the novels on which they are based, but in this case, there seems to be no escaping it, given that Rushdie himself has taken on the task of adapting his (admittedly very difficult) novel to the screen. Yet he seems stubbornly unable to embrace his new medium.

Case in point: the obtrusive, unrelenting voice-over by Rushdie himself. His narrator, taking on the role of an older Saleem, speaks far more eloquently and in an inexplicably different accent than the Saleem we see on screen, constantly lecturing us on what the characters think and how we should feel. Show us, don't tell us.

It is a strange combination of omitting too much, yet weeding out too little. An overlong prologue (which ironically proves to be the best part of the film), leaves the movie running out of steam by the time our hero comes of age. We flash quickly through India's struggles with the newly partitioned Pakistan, the formation of Bangladesh, and the dark years of Emergency under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (portrayed here as a Cruella de Ville-esque type villain). For the viewer unfamiliar with the history of the Indian subcontinent, this may all be a little hard to follow.

There are many characters, but few with whom we can truly connect. We never get to know any of the other midnight's children - apart from Parvati the Witch, the love interest who does little more than mutter ‘abracadabra’ repeatedly as she weaves her ‘real magic’; and Shiva, Saleem's evil twin of sorts and life-long nemesis, who spends most of his limited screen time glowering and being Very Angry.

To be fair, Oscar-nominated director Deepa Mehta (best known for her ‘Elements’ trilogy: Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005)) has managed some very lovely moments, with no shortage of breathtaking visuals. Yet at its core, Midnight's Children remains little more than what is essentially a beautifully filmed, clumsily pieced together, extended highlights reel of a much longer, much more exquisite miniseries.

SCORE: 2.5 stars

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