I haven’t read the novel; yes, I did try reading it some seven years back but I couldn’t go beyond the first forty pages. What motivated me to watch the movie was the poster. It promised colours, music, and joy unlike the greyness that memory harboured about the book. Typically, the reviews are mixed, and a little on the negative said...but I was sure I am going to find something that Deepa Mehta has etched, that I would definitely like. I have no clue how true the movie is to the book, but given that Salman Rushdie has scripted the screenplay and his layered voice takes us through the tale, I would assume that it is true to the creator’s thoughts. So blame it on my lack of reading...I would ignore the literature part, and just focus on the work as a motion-picture.
Multiple fates entwined with each other, symbolic of that of the Nation they were born into. Saleem Sinai is the protagonist whose life can best be described as that of stark contrasts. But before that, more on the canvas of time. The colours of Pre-1947 era have been captured in sepia, and the shades like that of flowers that have been ageing inside the pages of a book for years. Perhaps that’s where the director’s touch seeps into the story. Brilliant and sublime – that was how Rajat Kapoor is as Dr. Aadam Aziz, the western educated doctor. And of course Anupam Kher, as the Doctor’s idiosyncratic Pa-in-law in a brief cameo appearance..he manages to infuse humour in that starkness. A liberal upbringing and the conflicts in mindset – Deepa Mehta manages to get it beautifully across to the audience. As a matter of fact, the first half is deeply engaging to say.
The Nurse’s momentary impulse, leads to swapping of the two babies Saleem & Shiva, leading to an exchange of fate at the stroke of midnight, when there was rejoice at one end; and unimaginable pain on the other for thousands of people were rendered homeless, not to mention the suffering. Seema Biswas plays the nurse, with a perfection that one can just admire. Shahana Goswami as Saleem’s Mother is a pleasure to watch, she manages to deliver a stellar performance torn between her ‘love’ for poet & poetry and life’s practical choice.
The life of these two boys is caught in frenzy against time, where wars are fought, and history is taking shape. It was a great feeling to watch a much grown up Darsheel Safary on screen, as the young Saleem; a touching performance. Satya Bhaba comes in as the adult Saleem, and his vulnerability is touching to say the least. He brings out the nuances beautifully, giving himself into Saleem Sinai’s confusion, pain, trials and tribulation. He has a unique ability to conjure up his fellow mates who were born at the same time; but that’s not hunky-dory either. There are enmities, and there is love; the complexities that we see in his conjured World get translated into real lives. Shiva, played by Siddharth detests Saleem for the latter’s privileged life, and we see that continuing through the story when he actually goes into a position where he squares it off. But what is unanswered is how Shiva transforms from a street-urchin to a man of position. In fact, if something is amiss, then it is the plethora of characters that were not done justice to. Like that of Soha Ali Khan as the Saleem’s sister Jameela, Siddharth as Shiva, Samrat Chakrabarti as Wee Willie Winkie. I believe that is the challenge on making a film from a complex, character-heavy literature; the same thing that had happened to Gone with the Wind. It is only a few characters who are done justice to.
Shriya Saran needs to be mentioned; a surprise for me, completely deglamorized and earthy. But if someone surprised me the most, that was Ronit Roy. An unusual casting I had felt in the beginning, but he actually delivers the complexities and the changing persona of Ahmed Sinai very well. Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Picture Singh plays it to perfection as he always does.
The background score is beautiful, melancholic and sublime; it is a movie that is definitely worth watching if you are eager to know about those times and layered stories interest you.
I am quite surprised that the movie is allowed to be released without hoodlum-hullabaloo and Salman Rushdie managed to secure a visa and travel to most parts of the country; the Indira-Sanjay regime has not been shown in a very kind light for sure. Added to that, an awful looking woman chewing betel portrayed Indira Gandhi and appearing quite ghastly on screen.
The symbolic message that Saleem, like India is weighed down by the expectation of the future is nicely carved. His life which was cocooned into privilege and made special turned topsy-turvy as India fought internal & external wars. But tomorrow holds a promise, as we all Indians would love to believe...that of a better future ...something Saleem’s biological Father said “everything’s in fine fettle, don’t you agree? Tickety-boo, we used to say. Or, as you say in Hindustani: sabkuch ticktock hai. Everything’s just fine.”