While writer Salman Rushdie has numerous novels, collections and children’s stories to his name that have garnered him fame, awards and infamy, surprisingly not one of his works has been adapted for the screen… until now.
The film version of Rushdie’s 1981 novel and Booker prize winner, Midnight’s Children has been doing the festival round since August last year, where it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival, and opens in the US this Friday (26 April). The story follows the birth and development of both protagonist, Saleem Sinai and his country, India – Saleem is born at the very moment of India’s independence from Britain in 1947. Over thirty years, they both grow and try to find their way in a brave new world that is filled with terrifying, exhilarating and fantastic adventures – from India’s independence and internal conflict to its war with Pakistan and the 1970s “State of Emergency”, the novel is regarded as a landmark of neo-colonial fiction. Coming in at more than 500 pages, a lot had to be condensed to bring it to its 140 minute film length. And who better to ensure that it lost none of its meaning and charm than Rushdie himself who not only penned the screenplay but also provided off-screen narration and consulted with director Deepa Mehta (most well-known for her Elements trilogy, Fire, Earth and Oscar-nominated Water) closely on the production.
However, this film may never have happened. In speaking to the Huffington Post recently Rushdie explains how he originally met Mehta to discuss the film rights to another, more recent novel Shalimar the Clown. A big fan of Midnight’s Children, Mehta asked about obtaining the rights to that as well and the rest is movie history. Rushdie explained that her passion and interest in the novel was what led him to agreeing to her request. It may be for this reason that the two worked together on perfecting the screenplay – removing non-vital subplots and digressions along with Saleem’s narration of his story to Padma.
One major change, and sure to divide fans of the novel, is the rewriting of the ending. Rushdie describes how the novel was written at a time when it was “haunted by the darkness… of the Emergency”. Saleem states that “it is the privilege and the curse of midnight’s children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace.” However, over 30 years on, a lot has changed in India and Rushdie wanted to acknowledge that, “I wanted the ending to be a kind of beginning, one that suggests the start of another day”. The movie closes with Rushdie, in voiceover, reflecting on the events that have subsequently transpired and concludes with hope, declaring “they possess the authentic taste of truth, that they are, despite everything, acts of love”.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlY5V5Dbx6s] Midnight’s Children is in selected UK cinemas now and opens in the US 26 April.