Weaving a story with film and textile, Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of award-winning novel, Midnight’s Children, takes the audience on a historic journey through India’s tumultuous life as a nation. Jugni Style sat down with Deepa Mehta for an in-depth look into the story behind the epic film.
Based on Salman Rushdie’s novel of the same name, Midnight’s Children is a potent story of love, war, family and destiny. The film covers India’s birth, from pre-Independence, to war with Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, to the Emergency era of Indira Gandhi’s rule. Deepa Mehta shares the process behind one of the most challenging stories to be told on screen.
Jugni Style: Let’s start off talking about the fashion in the film, by Ritu Kumar. Why did you choose her and what was it like working with her?
Deepa Mehta: What happened was that Dolly Alhuwalia is the designer I always work with. She did Earth, she did Water and I really wanted her to do Midnight’s Children because it’s 60 years of Indian history. It goes from Kashmir in the 1920s, to Delhi and Agra and so it’s huge. But I thought it would be very interesting for all the wedding sequences, if we had something, as they say in Punjabi, hatke. Something unique or different. So then we set about designing that look and Ritu is amazing. It’s just about what is in fashion. She really goes into the fabric, the history of the fabric, what kind of weaving was correct at that point in Kashmir.
JS: She’s like a textile historian.
Deepa Mehta: She totally is a textile historian. So I knew whatever she would do, whether it was the ghararas for the Muslim families, to the shararas that they would be really authentic. It would not be synthetic looking fabric. I said: “Why are you spending so much money because the camera won’t be able to make out the difference if it’s synthetic or it’s real brocade.” And she says “I will.” (Laughs). So she designed all the clothes.
Above photos, left: The Sisters, played by Shahana Goswami, Anita Majumdar and Shikha Talsania. Right: From a Vogue India Midnight’s Children photo shoot, with designer Ritu Kumar seated at the centre.
JS: The thing I loved about the film was that it really helped the book make sense to me. The stuff that Salman is juggling in terms of the myths of Parvati and Shiva, and Saleem being a Ganesh character. At one level it’s one thing, at another level it’s something else. And I was wondering how you juggled those things that Salman had in the source text in terms of myth and symbol and politics.
Deepa Mehta: Once you have the script pretty much locked [completed]…you have the script! And then you suddenly say: “Oh my God, I have to make a film out of this script.” And the allegories you’re talking about and themes you’re talking about all become… [pause] – I suddenly realized there were scenes that were emotionally repetitive.
So to deal with allegories, to deal with metaphors, to deal with themes, you have to ask, how am I going to translate this into an image. And that is the challenge of the being a director. Forget about the symbol of the ghetto, if I realize that this is the first time that Saleem is actually going to be free, what is the image I’m going to see that shows that he has another opportunity to be alive? And I think bathing in the middle of an alleyway (laughing) is wonderful. Because it’s like washing away your past. It becomes a metaphor and it’s very little, but some people might get it. That he’s washing away everything horrible that’s happened to him.
Above photo: Two children born at midnight, Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha) and Shiva (Siddharth)
JS: Well that’s the interesting thing because the book has been revered so much. It’s this seminal magic realist text. When you made the film, did you have to step away from the book and say this is an independent film that has the same source text, but you’re going to bring your own references to other films and genealogies into it?
Deepa Mehta: First thing, once I decided to do it, I couldn’t even go into the arena of fear. Or blowing it because I know fear paralyzes one. So I forgot about it being an iconic book. The magic realism is very easy because I knew I wanted it to look classic. There’s a wonderful film that I love called Ugetsu. It’s a Japanese film that deals with the “other world” let’s say, or because it’s made in the 50s, before the word was coined, magic realism. But it’s magical qualities are rooted more in realism. So you think that it’s real, but maybe it isn’t. And that’s the way I wanted to approach this because I did not want this to be like Harry Potter or X-Men. It isn’t about flying kids and x-ray vision or whatever.
JS: At the end of the film, I felt that there’s this idea of optimism. The “Abracadabra” and the redeeming power of love. And the book finishes at a particular timepoint. It doesn’t know that Hindu fundamentalism would rise, this hypermasculinity would rise up, even the negative aspects of economic globalization. How do you reconcile that? Knowing where the book ends and where India has gone, it’s still a work in progress, but perhaps the optimism is not as rosy.
Deepa Mehta: I think that for me, I think I’m cynic number one in the world. But I do believe that it was important. The last voiceover is basically [Saleem] saying “There were many promises that we tried to meet, but that could not be met. And sometimes we failed and sometimes we succeeded, but our efforts always came from a place of love.” And I think that continues We’re still going all over the place, in different directions. It’s about Hindu fundamentalism, it’s about corruption, it’s about many things that aren’t very kosher at all, it’s also about being a BRIC [up and coming economies] country, it’s about the rise of Bollywood. Who knows what’s going on? But I really do believe that yes, it’s never going to be perfect. So it’s much better that we really realize that nothing in life is going to be perfect. But whatever good happens, let’s celebrate that for the moment. That is what I think the message is about. It’s about hope. And a celebration of hope because it happens rarely.
Listen to the entire interview with Deepa Mehta here.
Midnight’s Children opens in theatres across North America on November 2, 2012.
Story By: Naveen Girn | Photography: Naveen Girn, Midnight’s Children/Mongrel Media and Vogue India