Midnight’s Children captures a swath of our history with a masterly touch.

Unfilmable. That was the considered cinematic verdict on Salman Rushdie’s 1980 epic novel, Midnight’s Children, for close to three decades,. The book was too sprawling, had too many characters, a complicated narrative… and how did one negotiate the magic realism? Besides, there was the prickly issue of shooting in India.

So film-makers stayed away.

Till the brave Deepa Mehta rose to the challenge. Wisely, she enlisted Rushdie’s help; the author has not only adapted his novel for the screen, he has also provided the voice-over for its narrator, the book’s main protagonist, Saleem Sinai. Rarely (if ever) has an author been this involved in a screen adaptation.

So the film is as faithful as can be to the book in the circumstances, given that the novel was some 600 pages long. And standard book-to-film accusations like ‘tampering’ with the original, or not capturing its spirit are obviated.

But fidelity is not always exciting, and the film received mixed reviews in the West after its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Nobody said it was a bad film; just one that didn’t always measure up to the book. But really, that isn’t slamming it too hard, considering the novel has been voted the Booker of Bookers and is regarded one of the great books of the 20th century.

That Deepa Mehta attempted and did a stirring job of bringing it to the screen is commendable enough. Thanks to her for daring to go where others feared to tread.

The book is too widely read for a detailed synopsis here. But for those unfamiliar with the novel, a quick summary: At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, just as India awakens to freedom, two boys are born. But a nurse switches Saleem Sinai and Shiva and the boys grow up living the life meant for the other. However their lives are inextricably linked over the years, mirroring the hopes and troubles of the new nation. And Saleem discovers that he has a gift: he can communicate with the spirits of other children born at the same time as he was. It is a mystical bond that unites those who, in the novel’s most famous phrase are “handcuffed to history”.

The movie, which travels from pre-Independence to the Emergency, and is filled with sub-plots, has a large ensemble cast headed by the British-born, Yale-educated Satya Bhabha who plays Saleem, South actor Siddharth as Shiva and Shriya Saran as Parvati, the woman both men are fascinated by.

The book is epochal; the movie may not be quite up there. But it captures a swathe of our history with a masterly touch that will likely not be seen again on the screen. Regardless of the reviews in the West, the movie is a must-see for us

Midnight’s Children

Cast: Satya Bhabha, Siddharth, Shriya Saran, Shabana Azmi, Rahul Bose, Anupam Kher, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Sarita Chowdhury, Darsheel Safary

Director: Deepa Mehta

Releases: February 1, 2013