According to the BBC, Deepa Mehta has just finished filming her adaptation of Salman Rushdie‘s fantasy inclined novel Midnight’s Children, and she had to do the Sri Lankan based shoot entirely in secret. Though the book is set in India and Pakistan, Mehta (a native Indian herself who now lives in Canada) decided not to film there to avoid protests from religious groups. Sri Lanka was only barely a better option. In 1997, the country flatly refused the BBC permission to shoot an adaptation there.
For Ms Mehta’s production, cast and crew members were made to sign confidentiality agreements, in a bid to avoid protests.
“We really wanted to do this film, and the price was silence,” she told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.
“He [Rushdie] has got the Muslims. And I’ve got the Hindus.”
But when word of the location leaked out to Iran, a complaint from Tehran persuaded the island’s authorities to withdraw their approval.
Ms Mehta was forced to appeal to [President Mahinda] Rajapaksa, who agreed to overturn the ban.
Midnight’s Children is what critics like to call “magical realism” to disguise the fact that what they are actually reviewing is a work of fantasy, because god forbid anyone thing that they might treat genre fiction with any respect or seriousness. Its story concerns the family history and life of Saleem Sinai, one of a large number of children born at precisely midnight on August 15th, 1947: the moment that India gained its independence. Thanks to the accident of his birth, Saleem has telepathic powers that allow him to serve as a network between all of the midnight’s children, who each have their own different supernatural ability. Salman Rushdie, of course, has garnered the most controversy not for Midnight’s Children, but for The Satanic Verses, which earned a fatwa declared against him by Ayatollah Khomeini and years of subsequent police protection. This is what Mehta is referring to when she says “He has got the Muslims.”
Mehta is no stranger to religiously controversial film, which she is making reference to when she says “I’ve got the Hindus.” Upon the Indian release of her first film, Fire (which portrays homosexuality in a firmly positive light and its lesbian main characters as heroic) in 1998, theaters were burned, trashed, forced to refund moviegoers’ money not by the viewers but by threatening crowds, and even after direct appeal by a large number of filmmakers to India’s free speech laws, government action to stop widespread campaigns of vandalism and violence against showings of the film happened slowly. Production of Mehta’s Water (nominated for an Academy Award) had to be temporarily halted when “protesters in north-east India burned down the set and threatened to rape the female cast.”
The completed film of Midnight’s Children is slated to be released next year under the name Winds of Change.