MUMBAI Jan 30 Film director Deepa Mehta is no
stranger to controversy. Two of her movies - "Fire" and "Water"
- were hit by protests from right-wing groups in India, and
there were fears her latest cinematic offering would meet a
"Midnight's Children", Mehta's adaptation of the Booker
Prize-winning novel by Salman Rushdie, opens in Indian cinemas
on Friday. The film, which chronicles the story of an Indian
family living through the tumultuous events of India's recent
past, features a voice over by Rushdie.
The book's depiction of former Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi's role during India's Emergency in the 1970s had thrown
the film's screening into doubt. Rushdie's even more
controversial 1988 book "The Satanic Verses," which many Muslims
deemed blasphemous, remains banned in the country.
Mehta, 63, spoke to Reuters about "Midnight's Children,"
adapting a book for the screen and "un-filmable films."
Q: Many people had said that "Midnight's Children" might be
un-filmable. Was it an easy book to adapt?
A: "This is not the first book that I have adapted. I worked
on Bapsi Sidhwa's book for 'Earth'. All books, by their very
nature, don't have to make good films. I think it depends on the
filmmaker -- if the filmmaker finds that something in that
inherent story has resonance for them, then you say let me try
and do it ... One of the things you have to be aware of is that
the film is not a facsimile of the book. It was the same with
Midnight's Children. Yes, it was an iconic book. Yes, people
said it was un-filmable. For me, it was a very clear narrative."
Q: Were there parts that you wanted to leave out?
A: "Absolutely. Early on I told Salman (Rushdie) ... to
write down in narrative form what he thought the flow of the
film should be and I'll do the same. Separately, we wrote down
what we felt the progress of the story should be in the film. We
found, much to our surprise, that the points were almost
identical. You know then, that your vision is the same."
Q: There's always been a debate between book lovers and
moviegoers whether books are better. What do you say?
A: "Some films are better than the book. I think 'The
Constant Gardener', the film was much better than the book. And
some books are so much better than the films. There have been
some disastrous adaptations. I think it depends on what the film
turns out to be. There is the adaptation police, a group of
people going 'this book should never have been made into a
film', but if Salman had no problem, what's theirs?"
Q: This was also a difficult film to shoot, right? You had
to shoot in Sri Lanka under a fake working title because of
A: "That's not true at all. We came to Mumbai, looked at
locations and realised that if I wanted to shoot here, it would
be very difficult because nothing looks period. There are
high-rises everywhere, BMW cars on the streets. That's why it
was important to shoot in Sri Lanka -- it's very similar, except
that it isn't as built-up. There are lovely bungalows, etc. And
the reason we had to shoot under a fake working title was
because I didn't want to attract press, because it distracts the
Q: You've made a lot of films about women and attitudes
towards them in India. What do you think is behind these skewed
A: "Patriarchy. We've always felt that the girl child is
worth nothing and should in fact be aborted even before she is
born. The boy can do no wrong. If the girl is treated as a
sub-human, or the boy is raised to believe he can do no wrong,
then this is what will happen."
Q: Do you think films can help change these attitudes?
A: "I don't think so. They can be an instrument of looking
at things differently but then films also become old-fashioned
and people move on."
(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Elaine Lies)