It’s a source of some amusement that the most approving quote on the poster for Deepa Mehta’s laborious but lavishly illustrated adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker-winning doorstop comes from Rushdie himself. You’d expect the great man to be pleased with it: not only did he write the book and screenplay, but he narrates massive stretches of the film in vigorously fruity but utterly tone-deaf voiceover. ‘There are certain ironies that must not pass unnoticed,’ he trills at one point, as if any subtleties whatsoever could survive his overbearing presence.
It’s a shame that Rushdie has taken such a verbosely literal approach to his York Notes job, since Canadian-Indian director Mehta’s more florid visual treatment occasionally stumbles into moments of sincere emotional grandeur. The sheer density of this rousing epic fable, tracing the casually exchanged, ultimately convergent destinies of two boys (played by Satya Bhabha and Siddharth) switched at birth on the hour of India’s independence, could defeat even the deftest filmmaker. Mehta fudges the political allegory in favour of the story’s magical realism, but still can’t get her arms around the material – or past Rushdie’s own bear-hug.