Salman Rushdie was only 34 when he won the Booker Prize for his novel Midnight’s Children. That was in 1981. Twenty seven years later, over a dinner with his filmmaker friend Deepa Mehta, he got to talking about movie rights to his storied novel.
Right there, Mehta asked to buy the rights. He sold them to her for $1.
And so began a collaboration culminating in the release of the film adaptation of his book, which opens in theatres this Friday.
Midnight’s Children follows its hero Saleem Sinai, who was born at midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, the day of India’s independence from the British Raj. Sinai and other children born at this time are gifted with magic powers and as Sinai matures, his life parallels the growing pains of a newly independent India.
Rushdie had the difficult task of paring down his hefty 500-page novel into a screenplay that would be palatable for moviegoers.
To take a story that spans the history of India from 1917 to 1977 and compress it into a 148-minute film required some serious editing. “In the end, you have to ask yourself over and over again what is the essential story. It’s finding a way of telling the story in the most compact way and then just having the faith that other things like the cinematography, the costumes, the actual performances, will add back a lot of what you’ve taken out,” says Rushdie.
Wrestling with a story he had written nearly 30 years ago proved an interesting experience for Rushdie as well.
“When I started writing Midnight’s Children, I was 28 years old. It’s almost a different person who wrote it. Now I’m 65. It was like having an argument with your younger self on how to tell the story,” he says.
When most hear the name Salman Rushdie, they automatically associate it with fatwa. Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or ruling according to Islamic law, against Rushdie in 1988 following the publication of Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. Khomeini’s fatwa ordered for Rushdie’s execution and subsequently the author went into hiding. Today, Rushdie says he rarely feels the effects of the fatwa. However, while filming Midnight’s Children in Sri Lanka, production was shut down for two days because of issues with the Iranian foreign ministry.
“We’re not exactly clear what happened,” he says, speculating that someone in Iran’s foreign ministry told the Sri Lankan ambassador they disapproved of the filming. According to Rushdie, the moment the Sri Lankan president was notified production was shut down, he overturned it and they were able to resumé work.