amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, October 25, 2012

OIWF Screening of Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children is a sweeping epic tale of India's history after its independence & during the stormy days leading up to partition. The story focuses on Saleem, a boy living in a well-to-do family who was switched at birth with a poor boy, Shiva. Both boys are part of a group of midnight's children, babies born within an hour of India's independence from the British Empire. Midnight's children have special powers. Saleem is able to hear the voices of the other midnight's children & gather them together. The film is a screen adaptation of the book with the same title by Salman Rushdie.

Last night as part of the first day of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, there were two screenings of the film, with a brief interview with the director, Deepa Mehta. I attended the second screening. Deepa Mehta explained that she and Rushdie had met six years ago. Over dinner one night she asked him if who owned the rights to the book. He explained that he did. When she asked if she could make a movie from the book, he readily agreed. Rushdie also ended up writing the screen adaptation. He had to reduce the 600 page book to a 130 page script.

During the Q&A, Mehta talked about a method she uses to help her actors which makes use of a grid of nine major emotions. This method takes into account the complex mix of emotions one feels. For example, if the actor has to say I love you, he could do it with hate. I found this particularly interesting from the point of view of writing character development.

Another question concerned the colour palette used in the film. Mehta explained that she wanted blue for calm, green for fertility & red for passion. I noticed that the reds worn by the witch Parvati became more vibrant when she was an adult & involved with Saleem. Colour was an important part of the film, creating the right canvas to set the tone of each scene & to ensure that even though there were many narratives, there would be cohesion.

The film was lush & complex. The first person narrative voice ensured that Rushdi's beautiful language  would be heard in the film. I have never read Rushdi before, but after seeing this film, I need to read his work. There were sentences I wanted to write down, they were so remarkable.

I enjoyed the film. I am fascinated by India, its culture & history. I enjoyed the magic realism in the film also. Mehta said that the magic is meant to represent human potential.

This film is a wonderfully layered depiction of a tumultuous culture, mired in difficulties of language, religion & outdated societal hierarchies. The switch of a rich family's child for the child of paupers asks us to ponder the questions of nature/nurture. & class structure Saleem who is not born of wealth but lives in wealth is kind, considerate; whereas Shiva, who is born of wealth but raised by Wee Willy Winky, a pauper troubadour who sings English songs to make a living by pandering to wealthy colonialists & anglophiles, is a power hungry bully, who becomes instrumental in Pakistan's fight for independence from India.
My only criticism is that the film was quite long. Background story, such as the initial meeting of Saleem's grandfather & grandmother, which probably works beautifully in the novel to set up the story, felt unnecessary except for its entertainment value.

I came out of this first event I attended as part of the festival with an urge to write, inspired by the beautiful language & lush characters of the film. This is why I am so keen on this festival. It gets the creative juices flowing. If you are a writer of contemporary prose or poetry, I recommend that you treat this festival as a week-long university course in learning how to write & to hear & speak with those who have created these works. Of course I am not only a writer, but a reader. You can't really be the former without being the latter. The festival is essential for avoricious readers of contemporary writing.
tonight i am looking forward to an evening steeped in fiction with two events featuring six writers & their novels. hope to see you there. say hello, buy me some chocolate. [last night a woman i do not know gave me her Kit Kat bar...i believe this trend should continue]


Anonymous said...

Just a correction -- the character of 'Shiva' (who, in the course of the book, becomes a Major in the Indian Army) is instrumental in the war of independence of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) from Pakistan.

Amanda Earl said...

thank you kindly for reading & for the correction.