Telluride 2012: 'Midnight's Children,' Forced to Film in Secret, Sees the Light of Day

Deepa Mehta's sprawling adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel about the birth of modern India left some audience members checking their watches.

Telluride, Colo. -- The triumph in their voices was palpable Friday night at the Telluride Film Festival as director Deepa Mehta and screenwriter Salman Rushdie introduced the world premiere of Midnight's Children, their adaptation of Rushdie's 1982 Booker Prize-winning novel about children with magic powers born the same night modern India was born in 1947.

The film, which next moves on to the Toronto International Film Festival, encountered more than its share of challenges on the way to the screen. The India-born Meha, whose previous films include 2005's Water and 2008's Heaven on Earth, chose to begin production, under a veil of secrecy, in Sri Lanka in February of 2011 rather than risk encountering Muslin fundamentalists in Pakistan or Hindu fundamentalists in India. (The late Ayatollah Khomeini famously issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death following the publication of the author's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.) As it happens, the film production did run into controversy. Iran protested to Sri Lanka, which briefly ordered the film shut down until Mehta successfully appealed to Sri Lanka's president.

The completed movie, with a sprawling cast headed by Satya Bhabha, proved to be an epic with the gorgeous sweep of Slumdog Millionaire, which began its Oscar-winning ascent here at Telluride. But Midnight's Children, which doesn't yet have an American distributor, could have a hard time duplicating that sort of success. The audience consensus appeared to be that the movie, which tracks 18 major characters, is compelling but confusing. It has vast scope and a real sense of place, but a number of fest-goers, restless to get to the next movie on their list, also complained that the 149-minute film was at least 15 minutes too long.