A film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s prize-winning novel Midnight’s Children is to be shown in the author’s native land.
There had been fears no local distributors would risk controversy and buy rights to the film. However Kamal Gianchandani, head of Mumbai-based PVR Pictures, told the Times of India he had seen Midnight’s Children at the Toronto International film festival last month and was aiming for a December release.
Cinema experts in the subcontinent had said the apparent failure to find a distributor suggested a weakness in Indian democracy.
The newspaper quoted Ronit Roy, who acts in the film, as saying the deal showed that “India has come of age”.
The adaptation, scripted by Rushdie, follows the narrative of the original novel and includes unflattering portrayals of senior Indian political figures. Distributors appeared fearful of offending powerful politicians or sparking controversy.
“I think it is wonderful,” said one local critic, who did not want to be named. “It’s very brave [of PVR], because it’s Rushdie and because of the local angle. Anything to do with Salman can just spiral out of control. But it’s a movie that should be seen here.”
PVR had a history of bringing “eclectic independent films” into India, the critic said.
Rushdie’s relationship with India has often been troubled: his 1988 book The Satanic Verses, which provoked a fatwa from the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the author’s killing, 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. The incident provoked fears for free speech in India and criticism of the government.
Midnight’s Children was published to great acclaim in 1981 and won the Booker prize that year. It describes the life of a boy born with magical powers at the exact moment of India gaining its independence in 1947.
Its unflattering portrayal of the then 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 for defamation by the premier in 1984. Gandhi won the case shortly before her assassination that year and the publishers were forced to slightly alter the text to remove an offending passage.
The current president of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, is the widow of Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv. Her son, Rahul, is seen as a potential prime minister.
An Indian reviewer compared the Indira Gandhi portrayed in the film adaptation to a “Lord Voldemort-like politician with dark grey clouds hanging over her head”.
The Press Trust of India criticised the film for its “exotic India package snake charmers in red turbans, magicians who say abracadabra and slum dwellers who speak pukka English”. Other reviews have been more positive.
Producers did not seek permission to film in India, choosing instead to make the movie, directed by respected Indian-Canadian film maker Deepa Mehta, in SriLanka.