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Interview: Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie and Deepa Mehta

Acclaimed British Indian author Salman Rushdie opens up about the film adaptation of his Booker Prize winning novel, Midnight’s Children.

Interview: Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie confesses that he had a hugely emotional response when he saw the final cut of Midnight’s Children. Rushdie had travelled to Toronto to watch it privately with the film’s director, Deepa Mehta and editor, Colin Monie.

“At the end of it, I was actually in tears,” he says. “I couldn’t speak. I had a huge lump in my throat. I just got up and hugged them and said, ‘You made the film work!’”

The emotions came from numerous places. Firstly there was sheer relief. After all, filming Midnight’s Children had presented difficulties, which had, at times, seemed insurmountable.

“Just the physical act of making the film was gigantic,” Rushdie says. “It was hard to make in every possible way; hard to write, hard to finance and a brutal shoot.”

“Then, despite the fact that we had filmed something exceptional, visually beautiful and with really strong performances, the cut was a total nightmare. There were moments, in fact, when I thought we might never get it right and the three of us had tough conversations about what the hell was going to happen to the film.”

It was thanks, in the end, he says, to Monie’s skill and ability to fine-tune the final cut that saved the day. “I couldn’t believe it because I’d been very depressed by the cut before,” the writer admits. “But there I was watching substantially the same thing, except that Colin had added a half second here, cut a quarter a second there and now everything worked.

“As a result, I’m now incredibly proud of the film and I can’t wait to show it. I’m also delighted that audiences that have seen it so far have been very emotionally affected by it. I think it’s a film with a big emotional kick, maybe even more than the book.”

Rushdie’s special relationship with the book itself was, of course, also behind his own emotional response at that private screening. Now aged 65, he wrote Midnight’s Children when he was just 28, unaware at the time that the novel  -which tells the story of the end of Colonialism in India through the eyes of Saleem, born at the exact moment of Independence – would go on to become one of the most celebrated novels of all time.

Indeed, since publication in 1980, when Rushdie was 33, it has been translated into 49 languages, sold many millions of copies worldwide and earned the writer numerous awards, including both the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981 as well as the Booker of Booker Prizes in both 1993 and 2008.

The book was to transform Rushdie’s life. “Apart from anything else,” he says simply, “it showed me the kind of writer that I was.”

He had not written it for the kind of glory that has since been heaped upon him and certainly didn’t anticipate that it would be a commercial success. “I felt I’d written a book that wasn’t remotely like the model of a commercial novel, but then, somehow, it found this huge readership.”

He had hoped merely that the book would be taken seriously, be well reviewed and earn him enough to carry on in his chosen profession as a writer. “I didn’t have further ambitions. I didn’t think about prizes. I didn’t think about fame. I didn’t think about money. None of those things were remotely in my head, because it’s not the kind of novel that you write for money.”

He took a similar view of the screenplay, agreeing to adapt his own novel for just one dollar. “So you can see I’m a tough negotiator,” he laughs.

He did, however, require some persuasion to tackle the adaptation, he admits. “I didn’t want to do it because I thought, ‘I wrote this already,’” he explains.

“But then Deepa and I talked about the problem of the book being so well known that people asked to adapt it might be frightened to make the big changes that would need to be made. She said, ‘I think you’re the only person who wouldn’t be afraid to do it.’”

On top of this, the film’s producer, David Hamilton, pointed out that without Rushdie’s name attached to the project, financing the film would make an already difficult endeavour even harder. “So, it was really all to do with the art of the possible,” Rushdie says.

Still, during the process, the writer found himself infected by the enthusiasm that director, Deepa Mehta continued to express for the book. Indeed, right from the word go, when they first discussed filming the book over a dinner in Toronto, it was clear that she had an infectious passion for the project.

“The more I heard her speak about the book the more clear it became that Midnight’s Children had been a very important book for her and that she had a deep feeling for it,” Rushdie recalls.

“She had thought about it a lot and it stayed with her since she read it many years ago and I thought, ‘Well, if she has that close a relationship with the book already then it’s personal for her and it’s not just a gig. It’s not just, ‘here’s a book go and make a film of it’. It felt personal and she wanted to make it because of herself and then I thought well that’s a good reason to work with her.”

The great thing about the filming of Midnight’s Children, he says, is that it happened ‘organically.’ “Nobody said in an artificial way, ‘Let’s make a film’. Or pitched it. It just happened because it happened and my view is that’s the very best way.”

Midnight’s Children is available now from iTunes, Google Play and the Sony Entertainment Network:

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