We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…
Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s acclaimed 1981 novel is an epic tale set amidst the chaotic his tory of India from 1917 through its independence in 1947 and subsequent wars with breakaway Pakistan and the near-dictatorial regime of Indira Gandhi. After a prologue the central part of the tale begins at midnight of August 14, 1947 when two babies are born as India is declared independent of Great Britain. Because the impoverished mother of Saleem dies in childbirth, Pada (Seema Biswas), a sympathetic nurse switches his wrist tag with that of Shiva, the son born to a wealthy mother, thus bringing about the social reversal preached by Jesus (and also the nurse’s Communist lover).
The more than thousand children born that night all have magical powers, Shiva’s (Siddarth) being to fight, and Saleem’s (Satya Bhabha) a telepathic power able to communicate with the surviving Midnight’s Children and, by using his large nose, summon them together. The latter’s Ahmed Sinai wealthy businessman “father” (Ronit Roy), had been cold and distant to his “son,” and when Pada confesses what she had done in the hospital, he packs off Saleem to relatives in Pakistan where the boy is under the thumb of an army officer who plots a coup against the government. Meanwhile Shiva becomes a ruthless soldier rising in the ranks of the Indian army. How they all meet again during the despotic reign of Indira Gandhi (obviously a politician loathed by Rushdie), makes for exciting viewing, though at times difficult to follow amidst all the scenes of chaotic fighting and torture.
Despite negative reviews by critics, I found the film a fascinating magic realism tale (Saleem Sinai says about himself, “I was born in the city of Bombay, once upon a time.” ) about the cost of being “gifted” (think X-Men) and a quick study of the bloody price of religious hatred and revolution’s aftermath in the second most populous nation on the planet. Interesting that though Gandhi was central to the independence of India and Pakistan, there is no mention of him (his assassination would have been THE news shortly after independence), except for a picture that we see on the wall of Indira Gandhi’s office.
1. Compare Saleem and Shiva. How does their later character show the effects of their environment during their formative years?
2. The nurse Padma seems to quote Job when she switches the babies’ tags—” The rich shall become poor, and…” The closest quote I could find is, “ they will not be rich, and their wealth will not endure, nor will they strike root in the earth.” Job 15.29.
3. How is their reversal similar to what Jesus often said, about the “first shall be last, and the last first” ?
4. What does the English aristocrat Charles Dance, from whom Ahmed Sinai buys the mansion, reveal about what English rule must have been like? If you have seen the film Gandhi, compare him to the British as they are depicted in that film, especially the Viceroy.
5. What effects do we see of religious and ethnic hostility? Again, you might see how this is handled in Gandhi, and what he did to combat it.
6. The “Children of Midnight are persecuted because of their difference: compare this to the way the X-Men are treated. Why do you think we react with such fear and hostility to those who are different? A classic film on this is The Boy With Green Hair, a 1948 parable of the perils of being “different.” 7. What truth do you see in the narrator’s statement that “the truth has been less glorious than the dream.” ? Again, reverting to Gandhi, how did the great leader react to the Independence celebrations? Did he even attend? What was it that subverted the dream of freedom? Are a people ever free if they are still filled with hostility and prejudice?