Make sure to have a can of Red Bull before ‘Midnight’s Children’ (2012)… Or just don’t go.

19 Dec

Midnight's Children movie posterDemonstrating the riskiness involved in letting an author adapt their novel for the big screen to an impressive degree of perfection, Midnight’s Children – based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Salman Rushdie – takes the epic tale offered by the book and drains it of all the emotional, dramatic and allegorical integrity which made it so deserving of its award.

Midnight’s Children tells the story of Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha), whose birth at the stroke of midnight following India’s independence from Britain is marred by an unscrupulous nurse’s decision to switch his name tag with that of another baby, Shiva (Siddharth Narayan). Both at diametrically-opposed ends of the socioeconomic ladder, the affable Saleem soon discovers that he can communicate with the other kids born on that fateful hour, the other “Midnight’s Children”.

There is an awful lot going on in this movie, and over the course of its two and a half hour runtime so many new characters are introduced that it just becomes cluttered and confusing. The scores of actors all try their best, and while Sinai clearly puts a lot of effort in, I just didn’t care. This is my main issue with the film; there is not one likable, memorable character, which is a major shame because the book is bursting with them.

Rushdie wrote the screenplay for this, so he is at least partly to blame. He actually provides oddly out-of-place vocal services as the third-person omniscient narrator, a vague figure whose identity and relation to the plot is kept hidden. The film is devoid of all humour – I recall yawning much more than smiling. I did giggle at one instance of hilariously poor dialogue – one uptight general’s use of the non-existent phrase “given the circz” instead of “given the circumstances” was gloriously out of place and absolutely murdered the until-then serious tone of that scene.

Historians and those more politically-minded among us should enjoy the film’s depiction of India’s struggle for peace following its separation from Britain. But the diabolical editing and punishing 148-minute length makes this a frankly gruelling experience. The camera has this strange habit of wobbling on occasion, as if the guy holding it has some sort of nervous disorder, and couldn’t find a tripod.

A cold, distant appraisal is what’s required to successfully translate a good book into a good movie, and no author should be expected to operate on their babies in such a way. As it is, Midnight’s Children is essentially a patchwork of nice scenes, acceptable dialogue and decent acting threaded together by a flimsy, X-men like subplot. Had the film used this plot device as its main concept, instead of the boring dramatic narrative, it could have been much better. An overlong tirade of boredom.

[Written for The Student Standard]

Simon says: worse than having a Fatwā issued on you. Just read the book.

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