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'Midnight's Children' review: A charming historical epic

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Director: Deepa Mehta Screenwriter: Salman Rushdie Starring: Satya Bhabha, Shriya Saran, Siddharth Narayan, Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi, Seema Biswas, Shahana Goswami, Samrat Chakrabarti, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan, Anita Majumdar, Darsheel Safary. Running time: 148 mins Certificate: 12A


"At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom..."

Pandit Nehru's immortal words rang out, as he declared India free of British rule, and so began the events of history that would mark all our fates.

Midnight's Children tells the story of two such children, born in the same hospital at the very moment when India wins its freedom - one the child of a middle-class couple born to privilege, and the other the child of an impoverished street singer. Their nurse Mary (Seema Biswas), blinded by her love for a slain revolutionary and pledging to honour the beliefs for which he gave his life, utters the words "Let the rich be poor and the poor rich" and swaps the children, sealing their fates forever. The two boys, Saleem (Satya Bhabha) and Shiva (Siddarth Naryan), become "handcuffed to history," their destinies interminably intertwined as they struggle to forge their identity, mirroring the internal struggles of a nation torn apart by war and division.

When Rushdie wrote the Booker Prize winner, no-one could have anticipated it being adapted for the big screen. A detailed parable spanning 60 years and set against the tumultuous events of India's freedom struggle and the subsequent Indo-Pakistan and Bangladesh wars, it's a feat to even contemplate. Added to that its reputation as a much-loved, and celebrated novel, it's a bold and daunting undertaking. Director Deepa Mehta commits to the task bravely, succeeding in creating a deeply evocative canvas for Rushdie's charming story, faithfully capturing the spirit of the novel and the mood of those chaotic times.

Rushdie himself adapted the 600-page novel to the screenplay, and while loyal fans of the book will find some of the incidental characters absent, the core story is intact. It's a masterstroke having Rushdie provide the film's narration. His instantly-recognisable tone reciting his self-penned words render him a comforting guide on this tumultuous journey, as the tale of Saleem and Shiva unfolds.

Rushdie's rich characters are brought to life by a strong ensemble of esteemed actors. The brilliant Biswas is captivating as the misguided, guilt-ridden nurse and the catalyst for the unfolding sequence of events. Goswami effortlessly conveys the emotional turmoil of the mother unwittingly caught in the cross-fire, while Bose is exacting as the stern and almost comical Zulfikar. Debutante Satya Bhabha delivers a confident performance and Naryan is the perfect foil for him as the embittered Shiva. Mehta extracts naturalistic performances from the cast of children who provide all the heart to this story, most notably Taare Zameen Par star Darsheel Safary.

Nitin Sawhney's ethereal score is the perfect backdrop for the sumptuous cinematography, and with the mystical quality of the magic realism scenes, it is like watching a beautiful painting coming slowly to life.

Midnight's Children is the perfect medley of story, cast and characterisation infused with Rushdie's poetic brilliance. A charming historical epic that will delight fans of the book and those invested in the story of the birth of modern India.

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