Leading discursively to his own birth by narrating the history of how his grandfather came to marry his grandmother, and how his mother came to marry his father, Rushie narrates how he – Saleem – was born to a wealthy family at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence from Britain on 14 August 1947. But when a nurse decides to swap his name tag with that of another baby born at the same time in the same hospital, so that rich can be poor and poor can be rich, his fate becomes inextricably linked with that of Shiva, apparently the son of an itinerant busker. From then on, each boy lives the life the other was meant to have.
When Saleem is ten, he discovers that he and all the other children born around midnight that night each have a magical power. His special power is that he can gather them together into a community in his mind where they can all talk to each other – and he and Shiva, the two opposites, debate whether their powers can be used for good or ill. They are Midnight’s Children – symbolically the promises of independence.
As the two boys grow into adulthood, their paths diverging and converging, this huge film sweeps through India’s history and politics in time and place from Agra to Bombay, to Rawlpindi on the partition of India and creation of Pakistan, to Karachi, where Saleem observes a military coup, to Dacca for the creation of Bangladesh, and back to Bombay – but this time to the slums and the repression of Indira Gandhi’s ‘Emergency’. As Shiva’s star rises, so Saleem’s falls.
Acting credits amid a cast of colourful characters are excellent: Satya Bhabha and Siddharth as Saleem and Shiva respectively, Shriya Saran as their mutual love interest Parvati, veteran Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Picture Singh and Charles Dance as an about-to-depart relic of British colonialism. A poetic and whimsical introduction, songs, a family saga which personifies the turbulent politics of the era, violence, magic, coincidences, love and music by Nitin Sawnhey make this an absorbing portmanteau film. Its director is Toronto-based Deepa Mehta (Heaven on Earth). Though deeply critical of the politics and politicians of its native country, the film ends with hope for the future.