In Egyptian mythology there is the ‘Ka.’ The Ka is the living being’s double. Picture a coin. You are heads, and your Ka is tails. You preside over Earth, while your Ka presides over the Land of the Dead. There are two sides to every coin, two heads to every beast, two ways of interpreting things. Indian-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta makes slow-paced, government-funded films that prioritize spirituality, politics, and characters over the other side of the film coin: action scenes and explosions.
Mehta’s latest film, Midnight’s Children (2012), which screens here at the Atlantic Film Fest on Sept. 15, is no exception. The film is an adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel of the same name, which garnered praise from critics as well as a court case when former Prime Minister of India Indira Gandi sued Rushdie for defamation. Rumour has it that the film, which Rushdie adapted, has received equal protest from South Asia and had to be shot in 60 discreet locations.
Mehta is no stranger to protest. Being Hindi, her family fled from what is now Pakistan to Amritsar during the Partition of 1947. Mehta immigrated to Toronto to make films like Water (2005), which, despite being up for an Oscar, spawned backlash from fundamentalists.
But what makes Midnight’s Children controversial? Well, probably that Mehta has a penchant for realism. Midnight’s Children is the tale of a two-headed boy (not really) who was birthed at the same time as India’s independence: midnight of Aug. 15, 1947.
Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha) is 100 per cent a product of his time. After a rebellious nanny hands him to the wrong mother at birth, Saleem inherits the privileges (and woes) of the Sinai family, which is made up of Ahmed (Ronit Roy) and Amina (Shahana Goswami). The Sinais reside in a stately mansion on the British side of Mumbai, and chalk baby Sinai’s ‘cucumber nose’ up to bad genes: his grandfather, Dr. Aziz (Rajat Kapoor), had such a huge schnozzle he could detect karma based on a whiff.
Like his grandfather, Saleem soon discovers he has magical powers. He uses them to round up all the other ‘Midnight Children’ in the area. Together, this unlikely band fights the double standards placed on them at birth, and discovers what liberation really means.
Spanning four generations, numerous locales, and casting more than 70 characters, Midnight’s Children is epic. Yet Mehta hopes Rushdie’s sense of humour can lend a down to earth touch to the weighty subject matter. After all, says Mehta in a talk at Emory University in 2010, “humour is the best liberation, and Midnight’s Children is a great yarn.”
So, if you’re a fan of homegrown indie films about magic, the dark arts, rebellion, herbology, and character study, as opposed to cheap effects and bad replicas of outdated Luger handguns, then Deepa Mehta and her films are for you. Two sides to every coin, right?
When questioned by the Gazette about whether she would be in attendance for the Sept. 15 gala screening, Mehta tweeted, “Would like it. Very much. Trying to figure out logistics.”