At midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, two babies are switched at birth by a nurse in a Bombay hospital, on the very day that India gained its independence from Great Britain. It's later discovered that all babies born in India during the first hour of that new era have been gifted with special powers.
So begins Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize-winning novel, "Midnight's Children," which Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta has made into a feature film. The film is set to open this year's St. John's International Women's Film Festival Tuesday evening, having debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival early last month. Rushdie will address the local audience via a recorded video message.
Mehta said she and Rushdie have been friends for about five years, having met during a New York screening of her Oscar-nominated film, "Water."
"I've always admired his books and they're very cinematic, in fact, and I wanted to adapt one of them," Mehta told The Telegram in a phone interview from Toronto. "We were talking about 'Shalimar the Clown' at one point, and somehow it didn't happen."
Just over three years ago, when Rushdie was in Toronto to promote a book, the pair began talking about the project once again.
"I think he asked, 'Which is the book you would most like to make?' and I said - and to this day, I don't know why I said it - 'Midnight's Children.' It's a book that I really, really love, but I think if I had thought about it rationally, maybe it wouldn't have been that."
With a screenplay written by Rushdie, the film began shooting early last year in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in secret and under the working title 'Winds of Change,' as not to attract attention, Mehta explained. At one point, production was halted by the government.
"It was stopped for two days. I don't know why- maybe you can find out and let me know," Mehta said.
"They said it was stopped because the Iranian government felt that Sri Lanka should not be allowing Mr. Rushdie's book to be made into a film, but I have no contacts with the Iranian ambassador or foreign secretary to find out if that's the reason."
Rushdie's 1988 novel, "The Satanic Verses," has been protested by some Muslims for its depiction of the prophet Mohammed. In 1989, saying the book was blasphemous against Islam, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for Rushdie's execution. The book is still banned in a number of countries, including India.
Earlier this week, Mumbai-based PVR Pictures announced it had bought the distribution rights to "Midnight's Children" in India and is aiming for a release of the film there later this year.
Mehta feels the film's coming-of-age story is relevant to any culture.
"It's an emotional, very iconic book," she said. "The reaction is more or less the same; people do relate to not only the coming-of-age, but the quest for identity and for a home and family.
"I think people take away from it different things. They can take away the importance of identity. As far as the book is concerned, we make our own families. It doesn't necessarily mean they have to have our bloodline. I think that's very important in a world that's getting increasingly fragmented."
Mehta will attend the local screening of "Midnight's Children," and will be the guest for the film festival's Meet the Filmmaker luncheon, which is open to the public and will be held at the Masonic Hall Wednesday afternoon.
The festival will screen 45 films between Tuesday and Saturday; a significant number of them are by local filmmakers, including Joshua Jamieson's "Just Himself: The Story of Don Jamieson," Martine Blue's "Desperate Scribbles," Stephen Dunn's "Life Doesn't Frighten Me," Rosemary House's "Safe Home," Barbara Doran's "Life Below Zero," Sherry White's "Imaginary Heroine," Mark O'Brien's "Better People," Michael Rigler's "The Tentacle's Claw," and Elsa Morena's "Winners."
The festival's closing gala will feature three local films: Jordan Canning's award-winning short "Seconds," Ruth Lawrence's "Two Square Feet," starring fashion journalist Jeanne Beker, and Justin Simms' "Hard Light, a feature piece using Michael Crummey's collection of stories and poems of the same name to examine the people and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.
A collection of workshops, panels and networking events for aspiring, new and experienced filmmakers will also take place throughout the week. "The Real Housewives of Vancouver" producer Shannon Nering will speak about the rise of reality TV during an event at the Masonic Hall Thursday afternoon.
Tickets for regular screenings are $12 ($10 for seniors and students), and MUN Cinema screening tickets are $10 ($9 for seniors and students). Festival passes are available for $100 ($75 for seniors and students). More details and a full festival schedule is available online at www.womensfilmfestival.com.
HOW TO WIN TICKETS
Want to win tickets to the red carpet opening gala of the St. John's International Women's Film Festival, including the screening of "Midnight's Children?"
Answer this question: How many films will be screened at this year's festival? Email your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winners will be drawn at noon on Monday.
Rather have tickets to the closing gala? Answer the same question, but send your response to email@example.com.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @tara_bradbury