“No, it is not a surprise that a person would want to be a prophet. What’s ridiculous is that other people let him. It’s just too easy to start a religion. All you have to do is: A) Think up some really powerful stupid shit. Some stuff that is so idiotic and weird that a person who believes it will be proving that ultimate virtue of faith; B) Throw in some entitlements like life after death, washing away sins and free dental or whatever; and, C) Wait. Just wait. Just say your bullshit and stick to it. Believe me, if you do that, if you just say it, they will come.” This dialogue, from the 2008 Bill Maher documentary Religulous, ticks all the boxes of being a full blooded blasphemous comment.

In fact, it would be a close contest between this and “Religions are maintained by people. People who can’t get laid. Because sex is the first great earthly pleasure. But if you can’t get that, power is a pretty good second one. And that’s what religion gives to people. Power. Power is sex for people who can’t get or don’t want or aren’t any good at sex itself”, as being labeled the most depraved. When Religulous was released in the US in 2008, it received the usual criticism for being offensive and not sparing any divine entity. What followed was vociferous debate and frenzied arguments over the content of the documentary. Ex-ante, the State was not struck by a cultural paralysis and the imposition of a gag order was not deemed necessary. Moreover, violence was much out of the question. A few stray petitioners seeking a ban on the film were inevitable, however, no political appeasement happened and freedom of expression triumphed.

On the other hand Visions of Ecstasy, a short film featuring sexualized scenes of Saint Teresa with the body of Jesus on the cross, was not let off that easy. It was banned in 1989 in the UK under the offence of blasphemous libel. It was only in 2008 that UK repealed its blasphemy laws and the film released in 2012 with an A certificate. It is highly unlikely that in this period of 23 years divine intervention propagated the film’s cause. Divine beings remained where they were and faith remained where it was. Perhaps these 23 years saw spiritual eroticism as the next big thing in entertainment! Whatever might be the real reason, I am inclined to believe that either an evolution of sentiments occurred or people channeled their frustration towards more tangible things like lambasting existing sexual offenders.

Now bring in the most populous democracy of the world with its idealistic constitution. The burgeoning hub of technology; youth empowerment and feminist movements; an entity upholding secularity, tolerance and freedom to express. What is exceptional about the country however, are the sentiments. India is in essence a cultural and religious laboratory containing vast culture media with sentiments growing like bacteria. The sentiments need feeding and this is where people like MF Hussain, Kamal Haasan, Ashis Nandy and Salman Rushdie come in. Be it a Vishwaroopam, a Satanic Verses or a nude painting, sentiments aren’t particularly choosy during feeding time.

Debate is raging on in newsrooms and there is outrage with political propaganda and votebank politics being blamed. The problem with India is that we are stuck in the witch hunt era. The rest of the world broke free of this conservative strait jacketing at different times in history, ours has just not come yet. A segment of the population has been catapulted into reality ahead of the rest. This forward pull coupled with a concomitant backward tug has left the people in power walking a thinning tight rope. This scuffle has in turn caused a societal malaise further delaying the break through. And so, sensitivity of sentiments is reinforced and insecurity sets in.

What is needed is a massive push promulgated by those people who hurt sentiments. After all, banned works of art incite curiosity and achieve results contrary to those intended. Maybe, this is the new path to cultural revolution.


It has been 31 years since Midnight’s Children got published and despite the unparalleled popular and critical adulation, no one has, for the best part of three decades attempted a screen adaptation of the modern literary masterpiece. As Deepa Mehta and co found out, this is not without reason.

So, a review of Deepa Mehta’s latest offering will necessarily have to take into account the reasons why this project was so difficult to begin with and examine how the movie makers tackled these. Firstly, Midnight’s Children is a 600 page monster. A movie that covers every page of the novel would probably run up to 5 hours. Thus, the first challenge was to modify and edit the story to fit the canvas of a movie. Deepa Mehta, assisted by Salman Rushdie tackled this challenge particularly well and the story in isolation feels both complete and justifies the novel.


The next challenge comes from the type of novel that Midnight’s Children is. Rushdie’s Magical Realism makes a caricature of issues as important as India’s history and while this may only add to the virtues of the novel, in a movie it looks surreal and out of place. The characters of Midnight’s Children are not mere human beings; they represent events, communities, countries and the like. As a consequence, their actions, mannerisms and personalities are not intended to be consistent with nature but to serve the needs of the narrative. In a book, as steeped in allegory and metaphors as Midnight’s Children is, these anomalies are assimilated by the reader. The challenge for the movie maker is to make sure that the sublingual meaning is not lost even as the characters seem plausible. But unlike in a book he cannot explain each reaction.

The movie struggles all the way with this challenge being in places too tedious and in others too breezy. There in lies the main issue with Rushdie writing the screenplay for the movie. He has little experience of the role and the movie proceeds much like a novel and the characters seem hollow and unattached. It seems that Rushdie is too busy footing in as many of his allegories as possible while Mehta at the same time cuts them to bare bits such that each message remains under-explained.

The hollowness of the characters is the reason why such a talented cast underperforms. Of the actors only Rajat Kapoor and Rahul Bose manage to distinguish themselves.

If you have read the book then despite the flaws the movie is not to be missed. For the rest of the populace its a rather tedious affair. In the end it seems that Mehta doesn’t know whether to cater those who have already read the novel or those who haven’t.