Midnight’s Children

by carl on October 25, 2012

Deepa Mehta at the 2012 Ottawa International Writers Festival

Deepa Mehta at the 2012 Ottawa International Writers Festival: at top right, the producer of Midnight's Children, David Hamilton.

On the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, India gained its independence from Britain. It was a time of celebration for most Indians. It was also a time of fear for Indians who were Muslims and either left voluntarily for the newly created Pakistan, were forced out or stayed and suffered the wrath of their Hindu neighbours.

But it was also a time of magic: anything seemed possible. It was this magic that director Deepa Mehta captured in her film of Salman Rusdie’s book, Midnight’s Children. When life becomes unbearable for the hero Saleem, he commands all other Midnight’s Children, born on like him on that fateful day, to join him. His nemesis, Shiva, is also a Midnight’s Child.

“I decided Salman was the only person who could write the screenplay, but he didn’t want to write it,” said Deepa Mehta at the premiere on October 24, 2012, at the opening of the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

“It was an intense collaboration for both of us. We followed the narrative flow of Salem’s life, with the historical background of India as the canvas.”

The making of the film was an epic in itself. They were unable to film it in India, but got permission from Sri Lanka.

“One-third of the way into the shoot, after we had permission from the Sri Lankan government, we were told we could not shoot,” said producer David Hamilton. The Iranian government was shocked that Sri Lanka had given permission to shoot a film of a book by Salman Rushdie.

“In the end, after many people including a group of Canadian diplomats protested, the President of Sri Lanka intervened and after that we had permission to shoot,” Hamilton said.

The film was a project larger than life.

“Most films have 20 to 30 locations and the same number of actors. We had double that number of actors and 70 locations,” Hamilton added. “Most films take 30 days to shoot. It took us 70 days.”

Along the way, they lost an elephant while shooting the rally for the independence of Bangla Desh, and two of the seven cobras got loose. The cobras were used in the scene when Saleem returns to India to visit another Midnight’s Child, a young woman named Parvati, who has magical powers.

“Parvati’s magic is not a trick – it is real,” one of Parvati’s friends tells Saleem.

The magic of Parvati is used for the benefit of others, not for herself, as viewers will quickly understand.

“In the end, the film is about hope,” Deepa said. “When Saleem embraced his life,he realized that whatever is done out of love is what matters.”

This film works a miracle: it tells 60 years of India’s history by following the lifeline of one man. No other film I have ever seen has accomplished this as seamlessly as Deepa Mehta has done.

Carl Stieren is the communications co-ordinator for the 2013 Ottawa International Writers Festival.

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