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TIFF: Interview with Deepa Mehta - Director of Midnight's Children

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood September 17, 2012 at 1:30PM

Midnight's Children is literally an epic movie. It tells about the birth and development of India through the eyes of children born the moment the country declared its independence. Deepa Mehta takes a huge leap forward as a director taking the adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel and crafting a movie that deals with large global issues and still feels like it is a story of people.
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Deepa Mehta

Midnight's Children is literally an epic movie.  It tells about the birth and development of India through the eyes of children born the moment the country declared its independence.  Deepa Mehta takes a huge leap forward as a director taking the adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel and crafting a movie that deals with large global issues and still feels like it is a story of people.

As the film was about to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Deepa Mehta took a couple of minutes to answer some questions about the film.

Women and Hollywood: So I’ve seen your Elelments trilogy, and then I saw Midnight's Children the other day. What a movie. I felt like this one was considerably larger in scale than your previous films. Please talk about what was different in terms of making this one happen.

Deepa Mehta: Yes, Midnight Children is larger in scale than the trilogy for example – the size, the location, and the span – you know this is –

WaH: It’s epic.

DM: Yes, you said it! It’s epic. It spans 60 years and its a personal, emotional story.  But it’s also about two wars, it’s about independence, it’s about bloodshed.  At one point we had about 3,000 extras, and elephants, and armored trucks.  I departed from what I had usually done, but that’s what was fun about it, that you constantly surprise yourself with the challenges.

WaH: Absolutely. What drew you to this particular story?

DM: It’s the book. Midnight's Children the film is based on Midnight's Children the book, which is a kind of iconic, it won the Booker.  But it’s the story of Midnight Children which is so beautiful. Because when you have something that has such an epic scale, which is what happens to the post-colonial history of India since its independence.  The through line is so personal and emotional.  People ask what do you think the film is about?  And I always say that for me the film is about family -- families that exist, blood families, and families that we make.

WaH: Your fellow Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley just made a film about the same thing, about family, about blood, it’s just fascinating to see the two films juxtaposed. So I would imagine there were a lot of challenges along the way to make this movie.

DM: Every film is a challenge.

WaH: Tease one piece of the challenge out for you in getting this done.

DM: I don’t want to be melodramatic, but I think that once we have a cast of more than 2,000 or 3,000. The logistics of having 3000 extras, act as dead bodies in a field where it’s raining and it’s water logged and it’s got buffalos and it’s got snakes.  It just was very difficult. And then in between this we had sort of a political hitch and for a few days and we were shut down. And that was a bit hairy.  It wasn’t something that worried me. I never felt that it was like "oh my god it’s happening again." I know it makes good copy, but I just feel that, why give it more importance than it’s due.

WaH: I know filmmakers who would take this as lessons for the future.

DM: You can never be prepared for a film. Don’t you agree? You can never really know what’s going to happen in a film. It’s always a chore. So whether you’re going to make the whole film in your kitchen the way Bertolucci made his last film in a basement, or Last Tango in an apartment, or you want to open the scale up and make Lawrence of Arabia. It’s always tough.

This article is related to: Deepa Mehta, Toronto Film Festival