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Midnight ammo

Dec. 10: Midnight’s Children, Deepa Mehta’s screen adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel, is facing a freedom test in Kerala, where the movie had its Indian premiere today.

The southern state is ruled by the Congress, riven by “groups” spoiling for a chance to undermine one another, and the film has references to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, which one faction or the other is expected to seize upon.

Screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala, the film’s description of the Emergency is unlikely to gladden Congress loyalists.

The narrator, Rushdie, quotes from the book to challenge Indira’s assertion that “the Emergency was necessary and justified. Democracy was under threat. It had to be protected”. A voiceover adds later: “The Emergency everybody called it but it was really a betrayal and her betrayal of the father’s dreams.”

Many in India would echo the sentiment. But some Congress satraps are smelling ammunition to attack the ruling group as the film festival is sponsored by the state government.

“The film was not shown at the Goa IFFI. Nobody had any clue on what was in the film or may be they trusted the organisers too much,” a Congress leader said tonight.

Noted director Shaji N. Karun, who headed the committee that selected the movies, said: “Midnight’s Children is a work by an eminent director and will give a boost to the festival. Those who had seen it were welcome to comment and criticise.”

If the Congress factions make it an issue, the onus will be on chief minister Oommen Chandy to uphold the freedom of expression in the state. Rushdie had told The Telegraph recently that he thought “the area of free speech is very eroded in India now…. The failure of the Indian state to protect those freedoms is very worrying”.