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'Midnight's Children' review: Born with India

Shriya Saran and Satya Bhabha in

Shriya Saran and Satya Bhabha in "Midnight's Children" directed by Deepa Mehta. Credit: Paladin Film

The recommendation here is that if you haven't read Salman Rushdie's magnificent and magical "Midnight's Children," don't -- not if you plan to see Deepa Mehta's considerably less magical "Midnight's Children," which has many worthy qualities, not among them being any striking reflection of its source material.

To provide a great movie, the "unfilmable" novel -- and clearly, no such work is likely ever to be written -- requires a director of vision, who will take the work, throw it out and create something original, or at least re-imagined. While "Midnight's Children" has a screenplay co-written by Rushdie himself, as well as his voice narrating, it also has at its helm Deepa Mehta, a director far too fond of sentiment and melodrama to give Rushdie's book the pummeling it required.

The title refers to the children born at the stroke of midnight on Aug. 5, 1947 -- the moment that India became officially separated from Great Britain -- and who were endowed with mysterious telepathic powers. Chief among them is Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhaba), son of a poor single mother, and his progressively evil counterpart, Shiva (Siddharth), heir to a wealthy family. Switched at birth, they are condemned to live out the fate intended for the other; strangely intertwined, their lives are also inextricably linked to their country's journey through the tumultuous 20th century.

But there are other stories, and characters, too many for a film review, too many, perhaps, for a movie. There are reasons that Rushdie wrote a 533-page novel; the spell he wanted to cast required a weaving of words, images, allegories, manufactured myths, religious hallucinations, parables and pure political outrage. Rather than distill all that into potent cinema, Mehta has given us something as pale as it is panoramic.

PLOT A subcontinent's worth of story lines, emanating from the partition of India in 1947 and the enchanted children born at the stroke of independence.


CAST Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Siddharth, Rajat Kapoor


BOTTOM LINE Often beautiful but narratively sluggish adaptation of Salman Rushdie's wildly allegorical 1981 novel.

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