Being an avid reader and an obsessive film viewer, I have always loved products that result from the marriage of these two beautiful forms of expression. While one form is over three thousand years old, the other is a hundred and eighteen year old toddler, a product of industrial revolution and excellence in science and technology.
Sometimes these products are well pedigreed distinct entities like the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Pather Panchali, Omkara and so on, while others end up being a bastardized version of a film adaptation of a piece of literature; let’s not waste time naming what fills these ranks.
Last evening I entered a multiplex with a big bucket of caramel popcorn and unlike the last film I saw where I missed the first 10 minutes, for this one I made sure I caught the trailers, vicco vajradanti and insurance ads, and ofcourse the national anthem.
Once these were done, An ‘A’ rated censor certificate painted the screen pink, leading into the title - Midnight’s Children. The journey from a publisher’s printing press to a distributor’s projectors is always a challenging task, whether to stick to the original plot of the book or give it a slightly different rendering for film is a question that always intrigues me. And which moments and characters to leave out from a 500 page book yet retain its essence in the film is a question most filmmakers struggle with. I believe the loadstone of expectation on a screen writer and director is too much to transform a book in a film, and this burden increases out of proportion if the book is a bestseller and multiple award winner.
This is what happened with Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children. For those who have read Rushdie know that it is a challenge to visually depict what he writes. The novel traces the history of our nation and its dissected neighbours since 1917 to 1980 via the lives of supernaturally gifted children who were born in the first hour of Independence in 1947, with their destiny handcuffed to their newly independent nation.
While the art direction (the defining factor of a period film), acting and technicalities stood out as fine examples of film craft, something failed to bind these elements together into a good film.
Midnight’s Children has magic realism (the trait of blending magical and surreal elements in writing which otherwise deals with realistic/ historical scenarios) as one of its major themes and this element could not be transformed believably into its film adaptation.
The film stretched and dragged beyond a viewer’s patience and I could hear and see people restlessly rolling in their seats within the first hour of the film.
A platoon of distinct actors like Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, Rajat Kapoor, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan, Siddharth and Ronit Roy saved grace for the film with the parts they played.
The film in itself looked dated, while its relevance to our nation’s social and political scenario was apt when it was written, we as a nation and society have gone through a sea of change since 1981 when the book was published.
Suddenly out of nowhere I heard Miza Ghalib in Jagjeet Singh’s voice. A film that concludes in 1980 has a song from a television series by Gulzar that released in the late 80’s. I love Mirza as much as Deepa would, but would rather have him on my playlist and bookshelf than irrelevantly fit him in a film.
Coming back to the adaptation bit, atleast one filmmaker dared to transform India’s literary heritage into a film (I chose to ignore dime novels by some Mr. Bhagat which have been made into blockbuster films.) All you aspiring filmmakers, go to libraries and book shops, there are stories, novels and plays queuing up like refugees in a relief camp, waiting to get a fresh lease of life by being adapted on screen.
If you have read the book and have been waiting for this film for a while then it certainly deserves a viewing but otherwise save that money for Lincoln which releases this weekend.