Booker-winning author to work with director Deepa Mehta in a collaboration hatched over dinner
guardian.co.uk, Friday November 7 2008 11.20 GMT
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie's panoramic 1981 allegory of the birth of modern India, is heading for the big screen. Deepa Mehta is to direct and co-write the adaptation with the author, and the film is expected to start production in 2010, it was announced in New York yesterday.
Rushdie's novel, which has been selected twice as the best-ever Booker prize winner, is widely regarded as one of the premier literary works of the latter half of the 20th century and is required reading on most university syllabuses. Often associated with another masterpiece of magic realism, Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, the story begins with the birth of Saleem Sinai at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the moment India became independent. Far from a picaresque Everyman, Saleem discovers he shares special powers with every other person born in the same hour and comes to see himself as the incarnation of India, an avatar of the nation. With its bravura mix of historical events and inventive flights of fancy, the 650-page novel has long been seen as unfilmable.
Reached at home in Toronto, Mehta rejected any such concerns. "If I was doing it myself it would be rather daunting," she said. "The fact that we like and respect each other is a good foundation for collaboration."
The pair will begin writing the screen adaptation in mid-March, with Rushdie and Mehta's partner, David Hamilton, acting as co-producers. Hamilton said he had had preliminary discussions with two Hollywood studios, both of which were keen to see the fruits of the Rushdie-Mehta pairing. But, he added, the script would dictate the ultimate response.
Filming will not commence until 2010, as Mehta has another project set to film next year, Exclusion. This documents another moment in Indian history: the Komagata Maru incident, in which more than 300 Indian nationals were refused entry into Canada.
Mehta is best-known for her Elements trilogy, Earth (1996), Fire (1998) and the Oscar-nominated Water (2005), films that explore uncomfortable issues beneath the veneer of Indian society. For that reason, she has experienced, like Rushdie, a portion of intolerance, though not on the level of a fatwa. Mehta was forced to abandon her original production of Water after Indian protesters destroyed sets and harassed the crew. The project was remounted and filmed in Sri Lanka.
The film-maker said she has known the author since the New York premiere of Water. The project apparently started when Rushdie dined at Mehta's home recently and she asked him if he would consider a collaboration on Midnight's Children. In the late 1990s, Rushdie wrote a five-part television series based on the book but the project was abandoned when the Sri Lankan government decided against letting the shoot proceed.
"Those scripts will be a helpful blueprint for what will work in the film," said Mehta, "We can push the boundaries in film that in television might have been constrained. The challenge will be the shape."
Surely, this is an understatement: 650 pages of magic realism? "War and Peace has 1,000 pages and they made a movie of that," she said, adding, "The great thing about film is that it can compress in a few images what takes 40 pages in a book to describe."
At the press conference at the eighth annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council film festival yesterday, an Indian reporter asked Mehta if she wasn't concerned about shooting in India after her experience with the original shoot of Water. Rushdie chimed in, "Water under the bridge."
ajkfjkldfla! This makes me so excited and yet so apprehensive at the same time, because really, how are you going to film this? But I really hope it goes well, because the book is amazing and it doesn't deserve to be associated with a crappy movie. Who would play who, what do you guys think?