MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN directed by Deepa Mehta, written by Salman Rushdie from his novel, with Satya Bhabha and Shahana Goswami. A Mongrel Media release. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (November 2). For venues and times, see Movies.
Salman Rushdie is polite, but he's obviously not someone you mess with. His opinions are strong, and he knows his own creative process.
Filmmaker Deepa Mehta, who directed Midnight's Children from a screenplay by Rushdie from his own novel, isn't exactly a shrinking violet either. Their collaboration could easily have turned into a creative clash of artistic titans.
But their working relationship turned out to be very smooth.
"I can't tell you how easy it was - that's the shocking thing," says Rushdie, while running the gamut of interviews at TIFF. "She has very strong ideas, and she's very direct. She doesn't beat around the bush and tells you what she thinks and what she wants.
"I'm kind of like that, too, which means we can have a no-bullshit conversation."
After he sold Mehta the rights to the book - for exactly $1 - he wasn't originally that interested in working on the project.
"I told Deepa I didn't want to write the screenplay. ‘This is ancient history for me. Get someone else to do it.' There was also the daunting nature of the adaptation. How do you take 600 pages and turn it into 120? I didn't want to do that. But Deepa is very persuasive."
Rushdie says that having grown up in a film centre - "Bombay is a bigger movie city than Hollywood" - he's always been in love with movies. Two of his aunts were movie performers, his uncle was a screenwriter, and Bombay cinemas had direct connections to Hollywood distributors who sent over tons of Tinseltown product.
"Given my lifetime obsession with film, it's astonishing that this is my first screenplay."
And it wasn't a simple one to write.
"We decided early on to do away with the frame narration - the character in the pickle factory who tells the story is a literary device. At first we tried to do it without a voice-over. But the film is by nature episodic, and when we looked at the cut we knew we needed something to hold it together."
It wasn't until late in post-production that Rushdie developed complete confidence in the movie.
"It wasn't looking good, and we kept trying to make the cut work. It was a great lesson in the editor's art. Between the ultimate cut and the final cut, you take off half a second here and a quarter of a second there. It's all about rhythm, but with those tiny changes, everything clicked."
Rushdie talks to me just days before the release of Joseph Anton, his memoir of being on the ayatollah's hit list. But though Mehta's been politically hounded, too - Indian authorities tried to shut down screenings of her Fire, Earth, Water trilogy, and she decided to shoot Midnight's Children in Sri Lanka - she and Rushdie never talked about that shared experience.
"We had that background in common, but neither of us put it in the foreground of our thoughts. ‘The hell with it. This shit happened, but it's not what concerns us.' We just wanted to concentrate on the work."