Of a movie not 'handcuffed' to the book

Of a movie not 'handcuffed' to the book

 Salman Rushdie was only 27, when an avalanche of wordy ideas pushed him beyond the realm of his copy writing job to pen that masterpiece called Midnight’s Children.

Three decades after its publication, Rushdie seemed still passionate about the book’s relevance, its cinematic rebirth indulgently handcrafted by Deepa Mehta, its thousand stories retold through a “movie” prism once thought undoable.

That passion was evident enough, as Rushdie defended the film, shielding it from Deccan Herald’s attempts to probe into the multi-hued adaptation of Midnight’s Children on the big screen. “The film is unfaithful to the book. It is very unlike the book. All kinds of characters and plotlines are unceremoniously ditched. There are scenes in the film that are nothing like anything in the book.” That was the writer in Bangalore, responding also to critics worldwide for their monochromatic vision of the film only as an adaptation of the book.

Rushdie was deeply involved in the making of the film with Deepa Mehta of the Fire-Water-Earth fame. That active partnership unconventionally stood against the established film-making process, where the creator of the literary source often disappeared from the foreground. For this film, Rushdie re-scripted the entire book, assiduously lent his voice to the narration and helped Deepa in the critical casting process.

Caught often on the wrong side of the clash of cultures, Rushdie apparently understood the enduring relevance of ‘Midnight’s Children.’ He knew the power of its ideas, its potential to mirror contemporary struggles and offer solutions when crafted in as evocative a medium as cinema.

Deepa Mehta was glad many acknowledged that her movie had a life of its own. “There was no ‘adaptation police’ standing over our head saying you have to do it. Salman was not even there when we were shooting the film. If I had to make a facsimile of the book, it would have been actually seven hours long,” opined Mehta.

Packed with stories, wrapped in magic realism, was the multi-layered book Mehta’s right choice for a movie?
She had heard that question before. “People have asked me why, as the book is so dense, so complex and ‘unfilmable.’ But it never struck me so, even once. Because I love the story, the story of the unlikely hero, who thinks he is handcuffed to history. It has a personal narrative as well as the historical narrative.” The story was the key, for Rushdie too.

“The book has a very strong storyline which is what you need for a good screenplay. This is a book with full of stories, the question is only which story to focus on,” chipped in the writer.

For Deepa, as an NRI, looking at something that has been a part of her history was very attractive. “In many ways, the book is a search for identity, the search for a home, the search for a family that doesn’t necessarily have to be the family of your bloodline.”

The filmmaker had read the connection with what’s happening in India right now. “People are migrating from state to state, from Assam to Maharashtra, and back to Assam. There is a lot of migration happening within India. And the desire to form new family bonds when they have left old ones behind.” 

Handcuffed to history, the film and movie’s central character Saleem Sinai ponders, lives through the “awful lot of terrible things” that happens to him. Like every migrant Indian, like every citizen struggling for an identity to hold on to.

Journey of independent India

“Midnight’s Children” zooms into Saleem Sinai and Shiva, two children born in the same Bombay hospital at the very moment India wins its freedom. Sinai, the child of an impoverished street singer and Shiva, born to privileged parents, are swapped by a nurse. Their fates thus sealed, the two are forever “handcuffed to history.”

Dipped in a heady mix of fantasy, satire and quasi-reality, Salman Rushdie’s “Booker of Bookers” prize winning book tracks the lives of the two boys, echoing the journey of independent India as it weathers wars, tensions, and a million highs and lows.

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