Starring Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami. Written by Salman Rushdie. Directed by Deepa Mehta. PG. 148 min. Opens Nov. 2.
Deepa Mehta’s film Midnight’s Children is like a banquet with so many dishes that you barely have time to taste one before another is placed on the table. For fans of Salman Rushdie’s much-loved magic-realist novel, watching the movie is an exercise in frustration, as wonderful characters and memorable scenes go whizzing by before you’ve had a chance to savour them. For those unfamiliar with the book—or with the history of modern India—the effect is bewildering and, finally, disengaging.
Mehta’s direction seeks to emulate the exhilarating pace of Rushdie’s lively prose, but instead the film gallops along at an unvarying rhythm until the very last scenes. And Rushdie, who wrote the screenplay, tries to cram in far too much. Like the novel, the picture is strongest in its comical first part, as it follows the tangled origins and awkward boyhood of Saleem Sinai (Darsheel Safary), whose birth at midnight on Aug. 15, 1947—the precise moment that India gained its independence—has given him the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically, via his oversized nose, with the other children born at the same hour. But as Saleem grows into a hapless adult (Satya Bhabha) and his tumultuous fortunes mirror those of his homeland, the movie becomes increasingly fragmented and turns into a nonstop parade of wars and crises.
There are some fine supporting performances—Seema Biswas as Saleem’s guilt-ridden nanny, Charles Dance as a decaying remnant of British colonial rule—but few of the actors are given enough screen time to make an impression. And while Rushdie himself narrates, his literary “voice,” so funny and beguiling on the page, is all but absent.