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Midnight's Children

2012 | 145 min | R | 2.39:1

Midnight's Children


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Movie appeal

Coming of ageUncertain



Theatrical release date

 03 May, 2013
 26 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States



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Midnight's Children Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 15, 2013

“Midnight’s Children” is a sprawling motion picture that rarely pauses to allow its audience a moment to grasp the numerous leaps in time and enormous collection of characters. It’s based on the 1981 book by Salman Rushdie, who co-scripts and narrates this bizarre story of childhood trauma, magical powers, and crushing political changes, attempting to work its way to a grand summation of a life lived in full. Director Deepa Mehta fashions a lively movie for its first half, teeming with personality and digestible flights of fancy, only to be crushed by the overall narrative responsibility, unable to juggle faces and places to satisfaction.

Born on the day of India’s independence, young Saleem (played as an adult by Satya Bhabha) is raised in a difficult household under his strict father, Ahmed (Ronit Roy), while his mother, Amina (Shahana Goswami) pines for her lost love, Nadir (Zaib Shaikh). While nanny Mary (Seem Biswas) is usually attentive to Saleem’s needs, the boy spends much of his time in a world of telepathy, communicating with other children delivered at the same special time. Growing from a child to a man, Saleem witnesses India’s political landscape erupt on multiple occasions, sending him around the region on various missions and life experiences, eventually settling on time with Parvati (Shriya Saran), one of the many Midnight’s Children, developing a romantic relationship with the complicated woman. There’s also a question of Shiva (Siddharth), a baby born at the same moment as Saleem, ushered down a different life path than what was originally intended for him, resulting in the growth of an unyielding man who eventually rises in military rank as India heads into war.

A celebrated literary figure, Rushdie’s intricately woven work is a filmmaking challenge perhaps too impossible for the author and Mehta (who co-scripts). To conquer “Midnight’s Children” requires nimble navigation of a massive gathering of personalities, each tied to Saleem in some manner that spans nearly 60 years of Indian history. In fact, the tale opens with the saga of Saleem’s grandfather, a doctor with a prominent nose who fell in love with one of his patients, resulting in the birth of Amina and her two difficult sisters. It’s some time before we even meet the lead character, observing the production pour a foundation of tragedy, disappointment, and privilege throughout a period of British colonialism, building towards Saleem’s birth during a moment of liberation and celebration, where a hasty act of infant switcheroo alters the boy’s future, setting up confusion that will ultimately define his life.

There’s a lot to take in with “Midnight’s Children,” with repeated geographical changes (the production displays a shifting map of travel during the end credits, failing to recognize its usefulness during the picture) and historical footnotes to keep track of, while supporting characters are numerous, each with a modest nibble of motivation to snack on while Saleem’s story takes center stage. There’s also business concerning the boy’s mental powers, conjuring a team of children in his room via his sniffing nose. There’s a magical realism aspect to the material that comes and goes when needed, yet the placement of the ghost whisperer scenes against harsh moments of reality hint at editing room indecision as Mehta fails to balance the needs of imagination with the demands of drama. While a key component of Rushdie’s book, the nose-wrinkling visits from Saleem’s poltergeist peers are more odd than enriching, often resembling another movie altogether.

Rushdie’s narration is wonderfully lyrical and performances are generally cared for, with special attention paid to Biswas, who plays tortured superbly, achieving an emotional low the movie needs desperately. Although peppered with production triumphs, Mehta bites off more than she can chew with “Midnight’s Children,” with the second half of the picture coming to a full stop as it loses direction with national events and splintered relationships. Even at 140 minutes, the feature can’t stretch it legs, creating an organic span of time that befits Saleem’s amazing journey of self. Moments register as intended, with delicacy and confusion, but the majority of “Midnight’s Children” doesn’t have the clarity or drive to manage Rushdie’s literary achievement to satisfaction.

Starring: Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Siddharth
Director: Deepa Mehta

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