One of the nicer diversions from the dismal state of affairs in this capital and therefore, nation, was that I was privileged to see a great film — Midnight’s Children — conceptualized and directed by Deepa Mehta. Based on the celebrated book by Salman Rushdie, the film was shot in Sri Lanka because permission to film it in the country where it is set was not forthcoming. Yet again, a deep-seated intellectual insecurity — suffocated by an inability of the men and women in command to encourage views, opinions, dissent, and different interpretations of historical events — has diluted our greatest strengths, which were the many legacies bequeathed to us by those who founded this republic. Rabindranath Tagore spoke of the mind without fear, a poem that should be the mantra for the political class of today that, because of inadequacies of mind and soul, has ceased to govern with the values and patriotic determination of the leaders of the past.
This film is a sensitive and finely rendered slice of Indian history that had to be picturized in another country because of some inane and incomprehensible babugiri. Instead of embracing the best and the brightest, the Indian ‘system’ of our times applauds parochial mediocrity because it shelters those who have failed to deliver transparent governance based on integrity, honesty and good practice. The intellectual calibre of those people who determine the rules and the dos and don’ts of our lives, of what we need to see, read, eat, drink, and so on, leaves much to be desired.
Midnight’s Children spells out the trajectory of India since Independence and leads the viewer into a kaleidoscope of events and upheavals that marked the transformation. The images are stunning and spring upon one much like a secret revealed; the performances are subdued, strong and ‘real’; the emotions true to the spirit of the script. The film has a carefully orchestrated tempo that allows one to absorb and think before one scene slips into the other. There are some memorable, moving moments. The rendition of the “Tryst with Destiny” speech at the midnight hour with Jana Gana Mana floating in the air, was overpowering and special, but shook one as a reminder of what we have lost in 65 short years.
The surrender of the Pakistani army and the creation of Bangladesh were portrayed with underplayed sensitivity. There was none of the predictable jingoism, nor the high pitch of a fake nationalism. The declaration of Emergency in 1975 and its aftermath, an India trying to grapple with the intensely complex socio-economic realities and more, come across the footlights in a manner that provokes one to think and reassess and think again. There is no pontification, there are no agendas. It is what a film should be and is probably the most sensitive one I have seen since Garam Hawa. It is a must-see for this new generation of vibrant and energetic Indians because there are many subtle signals that they will have to recall as they move into a volatile future.
My generation lived the period. The ‘majority’ in India today is the generation that followed that of the midnight’s children. This new generation must urgently take on the reins of power if India is to reinvent herself with a new morality that is not compromised. It must gather as much information as possible about the last 65 years, dissect and analyse the many socio-political views and positions that were taken on all landmark events, if only to have a better perspective of the realities that confront us today. And most of all, this generation must be conscious of the fact that having an open mind and exacting standards of transparency and integrity is the only way one can move forward to the future.