TORONTO—Director Deepa Mehta always knew that only Salman Rushdie could adapt his novel Midnight’s Children for the big screen.
Although Mehta wrote the scripts for most of her previous movies—including Heaven on Earth, The Republic of Love, and Bollywood/Hollywood—she felt that only Rushdie would have the authority to cut scenes from a book that’s not just a Booker Prize–winning modern classic but is a tale beloved by so many readers, including herself.
In a one-on one interview in a downtown hotel just after the film’s world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Mehta told the Georgia Straight that she and Rushdie have been friends for “many years” and that for the last half-dozen they’d been talking about finding a project to work on together.
“Then, three-and-a-half years ago, I asked him out of the blue, absolutely out of the blue, who had the rights for Midnight’s Children. And he said, ‘I do. Why?’ And I said, ‘How would you feel about me adapting it?’ And he said, ‘Done.’ And that was it, so it wasn’t any big courting process or convincing process; he was sitting cross-legged in my living room, having a glass of wine, and it was done.”
Mehta, who splits her time between Toronto and Delhi, was thrilled. “Midnight’s Children will always be one of the most special books for me. I think [that] for a lot of people in the world, we all know it’s an iconic book. I read it in India in 1982, and I remember reading it and when I finished it, I felt: “My God, this is a book and this is a writer who’s changed the way the English language will be looked at for the rest of the world. Forever. Because Salman actually took the English language and made it our language. He Indianized it in a way which could never be possible and never has been possible since.”
Because the book was so precious to her, before Rushdie started to write they put together their own lists of key scenes that they felt absolutely had to be in the final movie, then they swapped lists. “I gave him my piece of paper; Salman gave me his; and they were—I would say with the exception of one point—identical. So then we knew we had a very solid foundation to work on, because it was a shared vision. The great thing about working with Salman is he’s a cinephile; he loves movies. He also understands that a film can be true to the book by being true to its essence.”
Even though Rushdie wasn’t present during filming, Mehta says he was “a wonderful godfather to the project”. On the 30th anniversary of the book’s publication, while the film’s cast was in Sri Lanka and Rushdie was in New York, they still celebrated the occasion together. “We had a kind of virtual birthday party for the book. We got a cake and we Skyped Salman, and Salman virtually blew out the candles.”
That celebration continues Thursday (September 27), when Midnight’s Children opens the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Watch the trailer for Midnight's Children.