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Deepa Metha's Midnight's Children may have been better served by the miniseries format, allowing Salman Rushdie's sprawling source novel more room to breathe, but this fast-paced film adaptation gives it the ol' college try. Rushdie narrates and co-wrote the script, so that's cred. The titular children were born at midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, the moment India gained its independence from Great Britain (represented by a too-brief Charles Dance cameo). One of the children, Saleem (Satya Bhabha), is switched in a hospital with a wealthy man's son, Shiva (Siddarth), thus condemning Shiva to what narrator Rushdie calls "a life of accordions and poverty." (Another erudite line, taken right from the book: "They've shoved my balls into an ice bucket!") Midnight's Children is a magical-realist telling of India's struggles in the latter half of the 20th century, reflected in the travails of Saleem, Shiva, and the other children, who share a psychic link and have magical abilities, such as remote viewing or a Basket of Invisibility (activated by the word "abracadabra," naturally). The fantastical elements are often played for laughs but are always heartfelt, and by the time Indira Gandhi's mid-70s "state of emergency" casts the country into a genuinely spooky endless night, Midnight's Children makes you believe that's how it might have been in real life.
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