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01-30-2013, 04:50 PM #1
- Join Date
- Sep 2011
My family is full of terrifying women: Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie tells us why we would not want to mess with the likes of his grandmother, while Deepa Mehta says she was drawn to the strong women characters in Midnight's Children
Salman Rushdie has been on a promotional blitzkrieg for Midnight's Children. The film, directed by Deepa Mehta, also marks his turn as scriptwriter. Mirror caught up with the duo as they engaged in a conversation peppered with sparkling anecdotes and filled the five-star suite with seriously contagious laughter.
TOI: (To Rushdie) Do you think it is important for authors get involved with the process of filmmaking when their works are adapted for the big screen?
RUSHDIE: Recently Cosmopolis was made into a film by David Cronenberg and Don (author Don DeLilo) had nothing to do with it, though Cronenberg was very faithful to the book which was as a script for shooting. I can see reasons for not getting involved with the film.For instance, now that there is a possibility of a film being made on my autobiography, I do not want to write the script but want to give it to someone else.
DEEPA: With Midnight... it was different because the book was written 32 years ago...
RUSHDIE: Yes, it was an important book for me and I just wanted to get involved with it this time. I know writers who are interested in movies and those who are not. I have always been very interested in films. During my childhood the cinema system was a bit different in Bombay... what you now call South Bombay. Metro, Regal, New Empire were linked to Hollywood studios. New Empire would show 20th Century Fox and Regal showed Columbia, whereas Eros showed Paramount films soon after their international release.
DEEPA: When you read Midnight's Children you realise it is quite cinematic in the close ups the wider frames...
RUSHDIE: When we were young, there used to be the Metro Cub Club for children to watch Sunday morning films. And you would sit there with your Vimto and potato chips and watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or King Arthur. I was very influenced by the fact that we were growing up in this golden age of international cinema. I feel I got a lot of my education in cinema. It also feels good to finally have my film and bring it back to the place where I began to learn about films.
TOI: Deepa, you wanted to adapt Shalimar the Clown before Midnight's Children what made you change your mind?
DEEPA: I still say I do not know. I'm just glad that I got a chance to work with him. What people do not know is what a great sense of humour he has and how generous he is. It could have been a very different feeling had he not said, 'listen, you go ahead and shoot it because there is only one director'. He wasn't there for pre production or the shoot but in spirit, and that trust enabled me to a large extent to actually explore the whole script.
RUSHDIE: It is important to know what you can do and what you cannot do. I am not a film director. Deepa is well known as a director, and she has her own technique and it would be stupid of me to try and get involved. One of the few things I actually happen to know about movies is that a, if you don't have an actual job on a set it can be very boring. And b, everybody is falling over you and it can get very annoying
TOI: (To Rushdie) You did get to watch the rushes ...did you like it then?
RUSHDIE: Francis Coppola had said that no film is ever as good as the rushes and no film is ever as bad as the first rough cut. If you saw the first rough cut of The Godfather, you'd be horrified. It was a B-grade gangster movie and then they worked on it for years and years before it became a masterpiece. But when I saw the rushes of Midnight's... I knew it was going to be a great film. I did sit through post production and learnt from Deepa and her editor about montage and how the tiniest adjustments added to the rhythm of a scene. Movies are made in the editing room and it was great to actually see it happen.
DEEPA: It was important that Salman got to see the rushes and the rough cuts, to ensure that he knows the process. I would have chained him to the room, but I could not! But he came with his 14-year-old son Milan, and his reaction was very important to me. He did not fall asleep or get bored!
TOI: (To Rushdie) What kind of inputs did Deepa give you for the script?
RUSHDIE: Even after the script was locked for shooting, there were things that just happened on the sets. Actually some of the nicest little touches are not mine, and I am not going to tell you what they are! Some things just happen on the set...sometimes it comes from director, actor... a script is never just set in stone.
DEEPA: What happens on the day of the shoot is dictated a lot by the location, the design of the set, the cinematography and the actors and how they respond during the workshops is very different from how they respond on the set...where they stand, where are the props, who are they talking to... that's a very organic thing and that's the magic Salman is talking about.
RUSHDIE: A script is not a novel. When you finish a novel, that's it. Don't touch it or I'll kill you. Script is a stage on the way to something. Even when you are cutting a film you are making changes. In fact Deepa later called me and said she wanted the language of the book in the script and that's when we decided to have a narration.
DEEPA: A couple of dialogues were in Kashmiri, Hindi, Bengali, Bhojpuri to add that bit of authenticity. At the end of the process I realised it was still missing something that I had loved abut the book - the language. That's why we incorporated the narrative of the older Saleem looking at his life.
TOI: (To Rushdie) Distilling the novel into a script would mean doing away with a lot of elements. Were you possessive about any character?
RUSHDIE: There were scenes that were hard to let go of. The question was to find the clearest line...
DEEPA: I love what you say about Michelangelo here... (Rushdie nods)
RUSHDIE: Michelangelo said about sculpture that when he stood before a block of marble he would take away everything that was not the statue, as if the statue was already in the stone...I thought, well, if you think of the book as a block of marble and the film as the statue that is supposed to come out of it, take away the things that is not the film...The book has this tendency of going off in a tangent and keeps coming back. In a movie you cannot do so much, you have to find the clearest line that will grab the audience, without them for a moment thinking - oh why are we talking about this?
DEEPA: Never did Salman or I feel that the film had to be an exact facsimile of the book, or it would have been seven hours long. It is a different art form for which you take the essential resonance or emotional centre of the book that as a reader one falls in love with..
TOI: So what did you fall in love with?
DEEPA: I love the idea of an unlikely hero who is vulnerable and sweet and does not need to take his shirt off and be a macho guy. It is a story of an average, loving person who comes of age as does post colonial India. On a personal level I love the women characters. They are very strong in the book and in the film. There are mothers, lovers, wives, politicians... RUSHDIE: That's also because my family is full of...
DEEPA: (turns to him) Strong women? (Both laugh heartily)
RUSHDIE: (Shakes his head) Terrifying women!
DEEPA: The grandmother played by Shabana Azmi is formidable...
RUSHDIE: The story about the grandparents in the book is mostly fictional. They did not look through holes in sheets... in reality my grandmother was very small... (pauses) but very dangerous! (More laughter) Nobody messed around with her. My grandfather who was much taller was much kindlier.
TOI: (To Deepa) Was it difficult to get Salman to modulate his voice to sound like the older Saleem?
DEEPA: It was (looks at him). But he takes direction well, I can tell you that.
RUSHDIE: And she gave me a lot of direction (shakes head vigorously, laughs)
TOI: Deepa, you are evidently proud of the narration, but it has also evoked strong reactions from certain critics...
DEEPA: My definition of a critic is a person who arrives at the scene after the battle is over and shoots the survivors. Its okay, some people will love it and some people will hate it...At this point in my life, I accept the bouquets and (pauses) duck the brickbats!
RUSHDIE: The one thing about any art form is that, the things some people will like about your work are exactly the things some people will not like about your work. I have had reviewers praise a particular sentence as an example of why the book is so well written and another reviewer picking the same sentence to say why the book is badly written. (shrugs)
DEEPA: You can't please everyone. That's the nature of any work of art, the minute you let it go out, its for everybody. Midnight's Children was subjected to greater scrutiny because it is based on Salman's iconic book and on his exceptionally fabulous screenplay. The more profile it has the more people feel powerful about taking pot shots at it.
TOI: Were you forced to screen the film to anyone in particular before releasing in India?
DEEPA: No one has seen the film except the Censor Board.
TOI: Were you asked to make any changes in the scene pertaining to Indira Gandhi?
DEEPA: Not at all.
RUSHDIE: It is normal to make a film, release it and let the audience watch it. But what should be normal is made to sound amazing. What should be abnormal rather is a film getting into trouble...
DEEPA: There was no pressure at all on us to make any changes. Nothing has been cut or changed...
RUSHDIE: Except that one shot where a woman's breasts have been blurred.
DEEPA: (Mock protests) They have not been cut, only blurred!
RUSHDIE: Oh but she's this poor woman with out of focus breasts! (Laughs).
DEEPA: The good thing is you can make out it is a breast! (They both laugh heartily again).