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Movie review: ‘Midnight’s Children’

Posted 2:27pm on Thursday, May. 09, 2013

R (nudity, sexual situations, violence); 140 min.

If anyone should compose the screen adaptation of a beloved book, it’s the author, right?

In the case of Midnight’s Children, maybe not. Salman Rushdie co-wrote the script from his 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel, and the movie arrives looking beautiful onscreen but feeling overburdened by unnecessary plot points.

The complex story centers on two boys born in Bombay at midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, which is the moment India abrogated British rule. One infant is born into wealth; the other’s lineage is complicated, but he would ostensibly be raised by poor wandering musicians. Except the babies are swapped at birth. Saleem, raised in the well-to-do family, narrates the story.

What follows is a retelling of 30 years of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi history interspersed with the evolution of Saleem and his counterpart-turned-rival, Shiva. Along with multiple narrative threads that involve the concrete dramas of war, poverty, birth and death, the story dips into magical realism. All children born between midnight and 1 a.m. on that historic date harbor special powers.

The film, directed by Deepa Mehta ( Water), is stunning to watch. Between the colorful textiles and the lush landscapes, the elephants on parade and the stilt walkers, Midnight’s Children is a visual treat.

The plot, however, feels like a mad dash, as if Rushdie (who co-adapted the screenplay with Mehta) was trying to shoehorn every single storyline from his novel into the film.

Midnight’s Children was a spectacularly celebrated novel, so it’s easy to see why cutting it to pieces would be difficult. Letting someone else do it might be the easy way out, but sometimes the simplest path is the right one.

In English, Hindi and Urdu with English subtitles.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas

— Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post

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