/ 10 September 2012

Will ‘Midnight’s Children’ see the light of day in India?

No Indian distributor has bought the rights to the film adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
No Indian distributor has bought the rights to the film adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

Speaking at its premiere in Toronto at the weekend, the film's director, Deepa Mehta, revealed that no Indian distributor has so far bought rights to the film.

"Salman has often said that the book was his love letter to India. I think the film reflects that love. What a pity if insecure politicians deprive the people of India to make up their own minds about what the film means, or does not mean, to them," the Hindustan Times, a major Indian newspaper, quoted the Indian-Canadian director as saying.

The book, which follows the life of a boy born with magical powers at the exact moment of India gaining its independence in 1947, appeared in 1981. A broad colourful allegorical sweep through 30 years of history and social change, the work's deeply negative portrayal of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi and her suspension of democracy in India between 1975 and 1977, a period known as The Emergency, led to the author being sued by the former leader for defamation.

The current president of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, is the widow of Indira Gandhi's late son Rajiv. Her son, Rahul, is seen as a potential future prime minister.

The present Indian government is very sensitive to criticism. Last week an article in the Washington Post depicting the current prime minister, Manmohan Singh, as ineffectual caused a storm. Ministers also recently explored the possibility of banning a romanticised novel based on the life of Sonia Gandhi.

One Indian review described the Indira Gandhi character in the film adaptation of Midnight's Children, for which Rushdie wrote the screenplay, as a "Lord Voldemort-like politician with dark grey clouds hanging over her head".

In India, major film industry figures tend to avoid provoking politicians. Powerful censors also often cause problems for films that are potentially offensive to the powerful or influential. Mumbai-born Rushdie's relationship with his homeland has always been troubled. His controversial 1988 book The Satanic Verses, which provoked a reaction from Iran's leader Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the author's killing as punishment for blasphemy, is still banned in India.

In January, an appearance by Rushdie (65) at the Jaipur literary festival had to be cancelled after protests from Indian Muslim groups. Producers did not seek permission to shoot Midnight's Children in India and the new film was made in Sri Lanka. Iran's government attempted to close down production of the film but succeeded only in halting work for several days. It is set to be screened in 40 countries. – © Guardian News and Media 2012