Until now, none of Rushdie's books had been made into movies and "Midnight's Children" seemed an unlikely candidate to go first. When Rushdie first met with director Deepa Mehta, they were supposed to discuss a more recent novel, "Shalimar the Clown." But Mehta, whose films include the Oscar-nominated "Water," also asked about the rights to "Midnight's Children." Rushdie, surprised by her interest, agreed.
"It was instinct," he said. "It was clear from talking to her how much the book meant to her."
He will share any blame or credit. Rushdie wrote the screenplay ("Deepa twisted my arm"), provided off-screen narration and consulted with Mehta closely on the production, which stars Satya Bhabba as Saleem. Writers traditionally stand aside once they grant film rights, but Rushdie notes a history of deep involvement, whether John Irving, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for "The Cider House Rules," or Paul Auster, who so enjoyed working with director Wayne Wang on an adaptation of his story "Smoke" that they ended up co-directing a follow-up, "Blue in the Face."
"I had no intention of working on 'Smoke,' but bit by bit I got dragged into doing it," Auster said. "It turned out to be one of the great experiences of my life."
"Midnight's Children" runs 140 minutes, longer than the average film, but nowhere close to capturing everything in Rushdie's book. Instead, Rushdie and Mehta agreed on how to condense it — removing subplots and digressions and a narrative device that has Saleem telling his story to a woman named Padma.
One notable change was the ending. In the movie we hear Rushdie reflecting on the events over the decades and concluding, with hope, that "they possess the authentic taste of truth, that they are, despite everything, acts of love."
But the novel ends far more darkly, as if anticipating the trouble to come for Rushdie. Saleem declares that "it is the privilege and the curse of midnight's children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace."
"The book was haunted by the darkness of the time of the Emergency and I didn't want to end the movie that way," Rushdie said during his interview. "I wanted the ending to be a kind of beginning, one that suggests the start of another day."
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