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TIFF Capsule Review: "Midnight's Children"

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 7, 2012 at 9:28AM

Director Deepa Metha teams with Salman Rushdie for an adaptation of his 1981 novel, a lavish period drama about India's shift from British colonialism to independence through the eyes of a well-heeled young man. Reserved young Saleem (Satya Bhabha) is born on the historic night of August 15, 1947, which makes him into an insta-symbol for the country's first post-colonial generation. Initially unaware that his real parents' maid spared him from a life of poverty by swapping baskets in the infirmary, Saleem grows up not knowing that the combative, lower class Shiva (Siddharth) is the true heir to Saleem's fortune. As tensions mount, both boys get entangled in war while Shiva struggles to comprehend his true identity. At times "Midnight's Children" balances off its earnestness with a sweeping view of history and tangible human drama, but the allegorical qualities of Rushdie's novel fail to translate as anything but a shrill, on-the-nose instance of thematic overreaching: Saleem develops telepathic powers and manages to assemble a conference with his fellow "Midnight's Children," and when they populate his room like floating orbs, spouting aspirations for a revolution, the movie devolves into a blatant soap opera -- which also makes evident the other preachy aspects of its story. Rushdie's prose skills are sorely missed. [Eric Kohn] Criticwire grade: C
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Director Deepa Metha teams with Salman Rushdie for an adaptation of his 1981 novel, a lavish period drama about India's shift from British colonialism to independence through the eyes of a well-heeled young man. Reserved young Saleem (Satya Bhabha) is born on the historic night of August 15, 1947, which makes him into an insta-symbol for the country's first post-colonial generation. Initially unaware that his real parents' maid spared him from a life of poverty by swapping baskets in the infirmary, Saleem grows up not knowing that the combative, lower class Shiva (Siddharth) is the true heir to Saleem's fortune. As tensions mount, both boys get entangled in war while Shiva struggles to comprehend his true identity. At times "Midnight's Children" balances off its earnestness with a sweeping view of history and tangible human drama, but the allegorical qualities of Rushdie's novel fail to translate as anything but a shrill, on-the-nose instance of thematic overreaching: Saleem develops telepathic powers and manages to assemble a conference with his fellow "Midnight's Children," and when they populate his room like floating orbs, spouting aspirations for a revolution, the movie devolves into a blatant soap opera -- which also makes evident the other preachy aspects of its story. Rushdie's prose skills are sorely missed. [Eric Kohn] Criticwire grade: C

This article is related to: Toronto International Film Festival, Reviews, Midnight's Children, Deepa Mehta