Salman Rushdie’s iconic novel has indeed come a long way since Satyajit Ray declared it ‘unfilmable’ in the late 1980s. Rushdie had for long publicly lamented that his favourite book – the one that had made him bag several awards, including the Man Booker Prize in 1981, as well as gain almost overnight literary superstardom – had been neglected by filmmakers, both Indian and foreign. Many directors, who agreed with Ray that the film is too convoluted and complex for an effective on-screen rendition, had backed off in the fear of losing the plot, literally. Often, filmmakers found it too daunting a task, and considered matching up to Rushdie’s novelistic flourishes a Herculean undertaking. Although, the BBC did show some interest in the late 1990s and wanted to make a five-part miniseries of the novel, with Rushdie’s favourite Rahul Bose cast as the film’s narrator-hero, the eponymous midnight’s child Saleem Sinai, the whole project met with fierce resistance amongst the Muslims in Sri Lanka and had to be summarily abandoned.
Now, over three decades later, with the Canadian-Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s efforts, Rushdie’s ernest desire to see the novel travel from the printed page to the celluloid has at last come true. Rushdie himself has written the screenplay for the film. Since September last year, Midnight’s Children had been touring the international festival circuit, and has already garnered favourable reviews amongst the global cinephiles and film critics. While some of the best and the brightest talents of Indian film industry have acted in the film, the lodestar amongst them is clearly Satya Bhabha, who plays Saleem Sinai. Bhabha, a British-born Indian-American actor, is the son of the celebrated Harvard-based literary theorist Homi Bhabha, himself a sort of Elvis Presley of international humanities, who capitalised on Rushdie’s writings to underline the ideas of hybridity and plurality of identities in the present world. Little wonder then that the Bhabha junior’s role has been praised copiously, as he, along with rest of the film’s illustrious cast, brought alive the blood, sweat and grime of a just-born nation, under Mehta’s wonderful directorial supervision. Revisiting the birth pangs of the nation, with a generous sprinkling of Indo-Pak politics, the unbelievable madness of wars, scathing depiction of the imposition of Emergency by Mrs Gandhi, reflections on love, literature and longing, for the beloved and the nation – the film is a worthy cinematic adaptation of the novel that had put Indian writing in English on the global literary map. Mehta has shown great courage by taking one of the most significant postcolonial Indian novels, and translating its staggering legacy onto the silverscreen.