With “Midnight’s Children” on their tryst with destiny
Deepa Mehta turns Salman Rushdie's schizoid tale of India and Pakistan into a metaphorical and allegorical history of the sub-continent
Mohan Guruswamy Delhi
Yesterday I snuck out of an unnecessarily belligerent meeting discussing the taking over of the management of Pakistan’s new Chinese built port of Gwadar by a Chinese port operating company to see "Midnight's Children" at the nearby PVR in Gurgaon. I never much cared for Salman Rushdie because his books were as readable as James Joyce’s Ulysses, but more so after he married the fetching Padma Lakshmi. The old goat that gets the magical princess always gets my goat. Such is the unfairness of life and we have to live with it. But some unfairness’s have good consequences. “Midnight’s Children” the movie that is, is one. It’s often that great books make lousy movie adaptations. But it is rare for a badly crafted book to turn up as a wonderful and delightful movie. No, it’s a brilliant film. To be able to retrieve a storyline out of "Midnight's Children" is an incredible achievement. Deepa Mehta turns Salman Rushdie's schizoid tale of India and Pakistan into a metaphorical and allegorical history of the sub-continent. Not all sixty-five years, but the first thirty years after chrysalis ending with the dark cloud of the Emergency rule lifting. It is a convoluted story and only a book can tell this story, but the director throws out the verbiage and extracts an understandable and imaginative swirl of fantasy to a turn up an engrossing tale leading to a well spent occupy two and something hours in a dark hall.
The main protagonist is Saleem, the bastard biological son of a departing Englishman and a Hindu street-singer who gets switched with the newborn baby of a very upper class Muslim home. Both babies were born at the midnight hour just as Jawaharlal Nehru was intoning "long years ago we made a tryst with destiny..." and the chimes of freedom rang. The switch is inspired by the revolutionary’s spiel of a soon to die revolutionary to the maternity home’s nurse that the rich should become poor and the poor should become rich uttering the only truth about the socialist paradise. That there will always be rich and poor. That to every Bo Xilai or Wen Jiabao there will be millions of poor.
So the Englishman's bastard gets the rich Muslim scions life, first in Bombay and then in Karachi, and the scion gets the life of a beggar's son in Bombay. See the allegory in this? The Indian of the story, synonymous with the India the English fashioned with English education ironically ends up in the Muslim’s promised land of Pakistan, and the Muslim son who should have been Pakistan’s pride ends up as the Indian state’s bullyboy hero. Both are there where they should not belong and both become what they would not have been. They are finally fused together when one man's son becomes the other ones, this time with full knowledge of the Englishman’s legacy. See I told you it is not an easy story for telling. And when you add the gatherings of all the other midnight children in nightly schizophrenic pantomime in Saleem’s solitude you have an impossibly convoluted and confounding tale. By the director’s and screenplay writer’s skills turn this into a narratable fable. In fact a soaring flight of fantasy with a fully throttled take-off and a perfect three point landing.