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Superheroes on the Subcontinent

By Alyssa Rosenberg  

"Superheroes on the Subcontinent"

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A moment of reckoning about the American relationship with Pakistan sure seems like a good time for an adaptation of Midnight’s Children, doesn’t it? Turns out we’re getting one, filmed in Sri Lanka in secret after a late 1990s attempt to make the movie there failed, and almost derailed after a diplomatic complaint by Iran, which is apparently still pretty attached to the fatwa against Midnight’s Children author Salman Rushdie. This already sounds promising, and it helps that the movie’s starring Satya Bhabha, who played Matthew Patel in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (a real gift to male actors of a certain age who wanted to flex their comedic chops) and directed by Academy Award-nominated Deepa Mehta.

Midnight’s Children, which takes place in both India and Pakistan, definitely has a current-events hook for American audiences who want to understand the region better, though its perspective on the two countries’ troubled relationship, the State of Emergency, and pushes for state lines based on language, among many other issues, aren’t defined by American strategic interests. That may mean fewer people in the States end up seeing it, which would be too bad.

Midnight’s Children may not have the galaxy-spanning reach of something like Thor, or the immediate post-September 11 emotional gratification of the Spider-Man movies, but in its own way, it’s much more consequential. “If he and India were to be paired, I would need to tell the story of both twins,” Rushdie writes in his introduction to the book. “Then Saleem, ever a striver for meaning, suggested to me that the whole of modern Indian history happened as it did because of him; that history, the life of his nation-twin, was somehow all his fault.” There’s something a little sterile about watching Spider-Man brawl his way through New York, about watching a trainful of New Yorkers carry his battered body aloft as if he’s Christ, replicating the collective decency of the city in the wake of its worst catastrophe. We’re safe reliving both the damage sustained in the movie, feeling warmed by the depictions of compassion, because the wreckage isn’t real, and the neither is the need to care for a wounded hero. In Midnight’s Children, the outcomes are real and our fictional superheroes help us work our way up to confronting those realities. It’s as if The Dark Knight was an alternate history of the Bush administration’s surveillance programs, instead of just a metaphor for them.

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