“Midnight's Children”: Salman Rushdie's Magic Baby Boom

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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