For a filmmaker who has spent most of her life in Canada,Deepa Mehta has a strong connect with India. Best known for her Elements trilogy Fire,Earth and Water,she talks about her fascination for adapting novels to cinema,why she chose Midnights Children and her friendship with Salman Rushdie. Excerpts of an email interview with the Toronto-based filmmaker.
Adapting an acclaimed book such as Midnights Children,is always a tough task. What was the trigger for you to work on this book?
I have always been a huge fan of the book. It is so rich with imagination and life. Salman Rushdie has often said that Midnights Children is his love letter to India. Similarly,the film has turned out to be my love letter to India as well. Ironic,but true.
Saleem Sinai,the protagonist,parallels Indias history from before the Partition to after it. What are the nuances about the character that you have retained?
I wanted to retain his innocence,sense of wonder and fragile optimism. Saleem Sinai,who despite having many unpleasant experiences,continues to see himself as a protagonist.
Which was the most difficult scene to shoot?
The Victory Parade in Dhaka,celebrating the birth of Bangladesh. Thousands of extras,tanks,armoured vehicles,choppers and even elephants it was a logistical challenge.
Tell us about your friendship with Salman Rushdie.
Salman and I had been friends and supporters of each others work for many years. Eventually,we became close friends. Salman has an extraordinary sense of humour and is so on point with everything that is going on in the world.
Was it your idea to ask him to co-write the film with you?
Over a dinner,I ventured that I would love to direct Midnights Children. Salmans response was done. The enormity of what I had desired only struck me later. To say that I wanted to direct the novel was instinctive. Salman wrote the screenplay and I got to work.
You have a host of Bollywood names in your cast,except your lead actor. Why?
I chose Satya Bhabha for his ability to capture the essential qualities of Saleem Sinai hope and innocence. I was less concerned with finding a Bollywood actor than I was with finding one who could pull off this beloved character.
If it wasnt for Midnights Children,is there any other Rushdie novel you want to adapt on screen?
The Moors Last Sigh. It is,after all,a sequel to Midnights Children.
When is the India release slotted?
The film is being released in 40 countries later this year. Sadly,we dont have a distributor for India as yet.
From Sam and Me to Midnights Children has your approach as a filmmaker changed?
Over the years,I have learned many things. This latest project,Midnights Children,is,in many ways,a culmination of everything that Ive done before. Like life,the process of making a film,makes a plan of its own despite your best intentions. You keep moving forward and onto the next thing. The challenge of making a film never goes away.
You were recently given the Governor Generals Award Toronto for the film. Does this make your journey more special?
It doesnt necessarily make it more special because my work has always been that way to me. It certainly made me feel extremely honoured and moved.
You had earlier worked with Bapsi Sidhwa on the adaptation of The Ice Candy Man. What is it about working with novelists that fascinates you?
I am fascinated by narratives whether its a book Ive read,a story someone has told me or an idea that fascinates me. As a writer and a director,I am always adapting something. Ive just happened to do a few books that I connected with strongly.
You are a Canadian citizen. Dont stories from the West influence your filmmaking?
I concern myself less with where a story comes from and more on whether it is a good one.