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Midnight's Children - Deepa Mehta and Satya Bhabha interview

Midnight's Children

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DIRECTOR Deepa Mehta and leading man Satya Bhabha talk about some of their experiences of making Midnight’s Children, which was adapted from Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel by Rushdie himself. They were speaking at a press conference held during the London Film Festival.

Q. Deepa, what appealed to you about the book and the prospect of turning it into a film?
Deepa Mehta: The story and then the use of English language, which was just superb… magic realism, the search for family, identity and Saleem Sinai himself.

Q. Were you of the same mind when it came to cutting things from the book? And were you happy to have him adapt his own novel?
Deepa Mehta: Yes. He’s not saying anything that’s not true. He didn’t want to write the script at all. He was really reluctant. He said: “I’ve done it and I’m not going to revisit it.” So, we were back and forth, back and forth. But I totally agree that the distance helped him as well as the way that Salman could be disrespectful to his own work, in the nicest possible way. It would have been very difficult for another screenwriter.

And the other thing is that he’s so modest sometimes. But he has a really great cinematic sense and loves movies. So, it felt natural. What I decided was… what I said to Salman was: “Let’s go away and write separately what we think the narrative flow of the film should be…” And we got back together two weeks later and lo and behold they were very similar. And that was great because it meant we shared the same vision.

Q. And Satya, what was your connection to the book? When did you read it for the first time?
Satya Bhabha: Well, this book has been a large part of my life and part of my family’s life for a long time. Not only do I have certain weird family connections to the book… Cyrus The Great in the book is a school friend of my uncle. But also it’s the Bombay that my father grew up in and the Bombay that I’ve been hearing about for many years. My father used to tell a story about a guy who used to sit on the corner between his home and school and he would sing: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” And then I read this when I was quite young, about 10-years-old, and there was this character called Wee Willie Winkie, a completely similar sort of character. So, it’s a book that’s meant a lot to me. It’s been a big influence on my family for many years.

Q. Deepa, what made you opt for Salman to do the voiceover?
Deepa Mehta: It came from a feeling that I really wanted to hear the cadence of Salman’s language in Midnight’s Children. There are lines in that voiceover which I die for… “wars were fought between friends in those days”. So, it seemed like a wonderful way of bringing parts of the book back to the film.

Read our review of Midnight’s Children

Read our interview with Salman Rushdie