This is the time for iconic books to be translated into scintillating works of art on celluloid by celebrated directors. If Ang Lee brought Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi to screen with stunning effect, there is Mira Nair who made a big splash on the festival circuit with her big screen rendition of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. And now the auteur of the Elements trilogy, Deepa Mehta, is ready with the big daddy of them of all, the winner of the Booker of Bookers, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. In an email interview, the 62-year-old director talks about the making of the film, collaborating with Rushdie, casting Shriya Saran and shooting in Sri Lanka, among other things.
How did you come to be associated with Midnight’s Children?
I first read the book in Delhi when it was first published in 1982. I loved it back then, but didn’t expect to direct the film adaption one day! Salman and I became friends, and years later I asked him over dinner one evening if I could purchase the rights to the book. He agreed and sold them to me for a dollar.
How was the experience of collaborating with Salman Rushdie?
It was an amazing experience. Most people know Salman in the public sense and of his brilliance, but he is an extraordinary human being and friend. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator.
Midnight’s Children is a celebrated book having won the Booker of Bookers. What, if any, were the pressures of adapting it to screen?
Adapting a book of this stature is definitely a massive undertaking, and not one that I took lightly. The book and its protagonist Saleem Sinai are so iconic that I wanted to adapt it to screen in a way that would pay homage to the source, but also translate it to screen in the best possibly way for audiences to experience a great story — even if they haven’t read the book.
Was translating the magic realism of the book to film easy?
It took a little bit of imagination and the help of some special effects. I didn’t want the magical realism elements to be overshadowed by fancy affects. People can go see X-Men if they want that kind of experience. I just wanted to make sure that the magical elements were grounded in reality so that the audience can interpret the story in a way that is unique to them.
Like Earth, Midnight’s Children deals with the Partition. What is it about this period that attracts you?
I definitely don’t seek out films based on historical periods I’m drawn to. That’s a bit of coincidence. Having grown up in India, I am certainly drawn to narratives that reflect my personal history, but most importantly, I choose films because I find the characters and narrative compelling and essential.
Could you tell us about casting Shriya Saran in the movie?
Shriya, besides being absolutely stunning, is an amazing actor. She very much embodied the mystic, enchanting and strength that the character Parvati required. She worked really hard and was a joy to work with. I’m so proud of what she brought to the role.
Why did you decide to shoot in Sri Lanka?
The Century-old architecture of Colombo was much better suited to shooting a historical film in. If we shot in Mumbai, there would have been trouble having a skyscraper in a shot of a film that is supposed to be half-a-century ago!
What was your most memorable moment in the film?
Hard to say. There was so many. I think the Magician’s Ghetto when Saleem returns to Delhi, his home (and mine), are particularly close to my heart. The idea of coming home to the land of one’s beginning is moving.
I hope to take a day or two off, but after that I’ll be shooting Matisse, a film about Matisse and his muse in the south of France. The work must continue!