Verdict - Midnight’s Children is a failure of an epic
There have been quite a few film adaptations of great novels of late. They were mostly deemed unfilmable and the one that turned out great was Life of Pi. Midnight's Children deserves a great film. Anything less is, well, not great. Deepa Mehta's film version is a misfire. The story, of course, is phenomenal. Whenever the film works it is because of the source material. There is beauty in Rushdie's verses which can only be decorated by celluloid. Instead, the beauty is squeezed out in spurts and the extraction process rids the film of its grand potential. This novel needs expansion on screen. A 500-page novel needs expansion? It could only need trimming you would think. No, the expansion I'm talking about is one of imagination.
The screenplay is adapted by Salman Rushdie himself. I don't know how much I could blame our Mario Puzo here but I believe the failure resides in only one person's hands - Deepa Mehta. Apart from the fact that I think Mehta is barely talented as a storyteller, she has managed to make her mark by feeding off of controversies. Not to mention they mostly please only one section of the niche audience of India filmgoers. Midnight's Children is tonally disjointed and ultimately a colossal failure. Not only does it fail as an adaptation but primarily as a film. Especially when the story takes fantastical turn. There is neither magic nor realism to be found here.
Some segments work well in the film. The rich/ poor divide, the Emergency sequence to name a few. But do they dazzle? Not really. It is mostly full of bad scenes. There is a voice-over where Rushdie sometimes reads his words verbatim to retain the â€œessenceâ€ of the novel. There is no point in retaining the essence if the scenes aren't constructed with attention to cinematic credence. This is not just seen in the scenes which involve fantastical sweep. I did not expect the children of midnight to become Hollywood superheroes. I'm talking about scenes that involve people talking. You don't feel a part of the story. There are also hideous moments like a brief montage which shows the final moments of three characters in succession. This is nothing else except bad filmmaking.
A good cast is assembled but they are no Avengers. The casting decisions are dull and uninspired. I was impressed with Siddharth, Shahana Goswami, Kulbhushan Khuarbanda and Seema Biswas but the rest of the actors add nothing to the film. Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi and Soha Ali Khan show promise but are wasted. Ronit Roy and Darsheel Safary seem to have walked off from the sets of Udaan (2010) and Taare Zameen Par (2007). Rajat Kapoor and Rahul Bose can make even any film suffer with their presence, they make acting look bad.
The biggest casting blunder is that of our protagonist - Saleem Sinai who is awkwardly played by Satya Bhabha. Not that he is a bad actor but in this film he is just plain wrong. He doesn't make the character relatable, forget likable. From playing an evil-ex-boyfriend in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) this actor had a role of a lifetime. Probably under a better director, he could have done justice to the role. For me, Midnight's Children is a failure of an epic.