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This Exists... Because of A Lady

Deepa Mehta Finishes Her Secret Adaptation of Midnight’s Children

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.

(via @ebertchicago.)


  • Hop_froggy06

    I can’t tell just from reading what you mean with this sentence: “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.”

    Is that to say that “Midnight’s Children” is a work of fantasy often reclassified as magical realism in order to make it more acceptable? Or is it to say that “Midnight’s Children” is a work of fantasy and not magical realism because the latter is not a legitimate genre?

    If it’s the latter, I’m going to have to protest, as magical realism, though difficult to define, is its own distinct and worthy genre. I can’t speak to which genre “Midnight’s Children” belongs since I have not read it, but if is indeed appropriately classified a work of magical realism, can we accept that and not consider it a slight against the fantasy genre?

    In more relevant commentary, this sounds amazing, and I hope to see it. I’m wondering whether Warren Ellis got the idea for “Freak Angels” from that book. They seem very similar.

  • Sarah

     I believe she was saying that Midnight’s Children gets called ‘magical realism’ and shelved in the Literature/Fiction section of bookstores because it has been found worthy of critical respect and is by a literary author.  Whereas fantasy novels are often marked for derision no matter how well they are written or if they are no more ‘fantastical’ than the ‘magical realism’ works.  There are exceptions to this of course but fantasy novels usually aren’t taken as seriously as literature.

  • Karmen

    Midnight’s Children is highly surreal. Saleem and the other “children” communicate telepathically with one another, and each has some unusual gift. In Saleem’s case, he is endowed with a large and sensitive nose. The whole text uses lots of mythological symbolism, drawing deeply from Hindu tradition.  That said, the book describes some very dark periods of recent history with startling accuracy. The most disturbing parts of the book are based on actual events, namely the actions of Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay during a period of time known as the Emergency. Hence, “magical realism” is an apt description.

    It’s curious that the original article glossed over the controversial aspects of the novel. Perhaps  Midnight’s Children exposes too much of the roots of colonial subjugation, poking at unhealed, festering wounds. I wish Ms. Mehta the best of luck in getting her film out there. In the meantime, everyone should read the book, at least! :)

  • Hop_froggy06

    I was hoping that’s what it was. Sometimes tone is hard to read. I felt required to spring to magical realism’s defense on the off chance it was the latter. Spanish major with a focus on literature = very defensive of the realismo magico.