Born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947—syncopated with India’s first moments of independence—Saleem (Satya Bhabha) pursues a whirlwind life that is inextricable from the tumultuous maturation of his homeland. His personal pauper-to-prince-and-back-again story isn’t just political; it’s allegorical and magical as well, as family rivalries mirror India’s violent split with Pakistan. Thankfully, Saleem’s perpetually runny nose fantastically summons his fellow “midnight’s children” to work through any and all growing pains.
Deepa Mehta’s Crayola-colored odyssey disconcertingly evokes the not-quite-Booker-Prize-worthy likes of Forrest Gump and Slumdog Millionaire—two pop bastards of author Salman Rushdie’s legacy, to which this adaptation of his 1981 novel is, in turn, dismayingly beholden. It’s a matter of economy: You can collapse years of dramatic incident (births, deaths, marriages, presidential malfeasances) into a three-minute montage, but why on earth would you? Doing triple duty as producer, screenwriter and narrator, Rushdie is so eager to visit every station of his beloved text that moments rush past as if glimpsed from a high-speed train, leaving Mehta to awkwardly wring catharsis from characters we barely know. A miniseries, which the BBC once planned, might have worked. In this form, Midnight’s Children has the paradoxical misfortune of being both too rushed and too wearingly long.
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