Feature

After Midnight

On the set of Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of a Salman Rushdie classic

by
Photography by Jaime Hogge

• 5,570 words

Photograph by Jaime Hogge

Ashrieking swarm of poor Sri Lankan women thunders past Deepa Mehta, their arms raised in alarm. The ends of their saris are flapping, and their anklets tinkle above bare, hardened feet. Mehta clasps her hands together in glee. “Aren’t they wonderful!” she exclaims.

They are certainly enthusiastic. The women are the corpus of a crowd scene, meant to be fleeing a fire and directed to run toward her camera, expressing terror. They scream with gusto when they remember, but they are unaccustomed to the artifice of a film set and occasionally stop running, turn the wrong way, and lapse into giggles.

Mehta is shooting this scene—the moment in Salman Rushdie’s magnum opus, Midnight’s Children, in which the Indian army destroys the ghetto in New Delhi that is home to his alter ego, Saleem Sinai—three-quarters of the way into an epic seventy-day shoot in the spring of 2011. She places herself in the centre of the crowd, an island of still concentration amid the pandemonium of rehearsing hysteria.

Affable and bemused, the ladies appear to enjoy this diversion from their regular evening’s activities. The wardrobe department has kitted them out in simple cotton saris and oiled their long braids, detail-perfect for Delhi slum dwellers of the 1970s. But in one key respect, the women are wrong: they are dark skinned, as are most Sri Lankans, darker than a typical Delhi woman. Mehta, however, has resolved not to let this trouble her. On the scale of problems she faces in getting this story onto celluloid, swarthy extras don’t even register.

She is filming one of the most beloved English-language novels of all time, which won the Booker Prize in 1981, the Booker of Bookers in 1993, and then the Best of the Booker in 2008. The movie adaptation covers fifty-four years and sixty-four locations, in nine different corners of South Asia, from Kashmir to Karachi. She must recreate some of the most pivotal moments in the subcontinent’s history: one scene, a 1971 independence celebration in Bangladesh, involves tanks, helicopters, throngs of thousands, and a parade with an elephant.

The film has scenes with live cobras and scenes with fields of bloating corpses; when her crew fills the fake bodies with rotting fish to draw crows, they also attract snapping lizards. Scenes in swamps have caused Mehta’s skin to break out in a vicious rash. On this night shoot, she must demolish and burn the Potemkin slum she has had built near a real one in the heart of Colombo.

She is filming in Sri Lanka because she cannot make this story, India’s seminal story, in India. Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, as India gains its independence; his family’s saga is set against some of the country’s most dramatic moments, from partition to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. Rushdie has called the novel, written in the late ’70s, his “love letter to India,” an attempt to reclaim his Indianness, much as the land of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) has been clawed out of the sea. And the country of his birth embraced the book: while the rest of the world savoured its magic realism, Indians just saw realism. The book was pirated so often that the thieves sent Rushdie cheery cards on his birthday. But hardline factions among the country’s 160 million Muslims have declared Rushdie, a British citizen, a heretic non grata since The Satanic Verses was published in 1988. He comes and goes from India often, but it became clear that all is not forgiven when he dramatically withdrew from the nation’s signature literary festival in Jaipur earlier this year; Muslim protesters threatened violent disruption if he attended.

Mehta cannot work in her native India with any more ease than Rushdie can: when her film Fire, about two lonely Delhi women in arranged marriages who fall in love, was released in India in 1996, right-wing Hindu groups trashed theatres and vowed to kill her. Three years later, she set out to make Water, the last film in her Elemental Trilogy, in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi. This time, a mob of thugs heaved her set, a home for widows, into the Ganges River and burned a black-haired effigy of her. After a production truck was blown up and the crew was barricaded in a hotel, her producers pulled the plug. It would be another four years before she could return to the film.

Sri Lanka is not without religious demons of its own, but she decided to risk filming here. This production involves one of the biggest budgets she has worked with, the largest cast, the longest shoot. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and was touted as a candidate for an Academy Award for best foreign film before anyone had even seen it. And while Mehta, at sixty-two, is a firmly established director, it is also a film that has the potential to settle some critical questions. At present, she works in a strange intercontinental limbo: both Canada and India are quick to claim her each time she wins an award. In Canada, she enjoys considerable respect as an artist; she was given a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the country’s highest, this year. Yet relatively few Canadians ever see her movies. And in the eyes of many, she is something less than completely Canadian, a filmmaker who tells immigrant or foreign stories.

In India, an even smaller slice of the populace sees her work. Distributors are reluctant to buy it these days, since the tiny crowd who would attend her films is not worth the risk of a mob bashing in the theatre door. Many of the Indians who know her name view her with overt mistrust, particularly when she probes beneath the surface of the “Shining India” myth peddled to outsiders. But Midnight’s Children, with its subject, scale, and lush, loving portrait of India, could be the film to peel off the labels—Indo-Canadian, non-resident Indian, immigrant, emigrant, feminist, atheist—and simply leave her as Deepa Mehta, director.

On set, she had to push all of that out of her mind.

The slum crowd hones its panic on successive run-throughs, and her assistant director gets everyone in place for a take. The women flee the bulldozers in authentic-looking pandemonium. “I love the extras,” Mehta breathes. But the bulldozing scene does not unfold as she wants it to. She calls “cut,” and the crew magically removes the debris and totes two new houses, rickety tin sheets with wobbly roofs, into the cleared spots.

As the women return to their places, one of their leaders stops in front of the director, flicking the pallu of her blue sari over her shoulder.

“After finish, you come my house, big party,” the woman says, her English halting but her grin enormous.

“Yes!” Mehta replies enthusiastically. “Party!”

As the woman walks away, Mehta mutters, “That will be fun. She’s a big drinker, that one.”

Mehta has built her Delhi slum on a derelict soccer pitch in a congested part of town. The set is ringed with metal fences, and burly security guards with walkie-talkies staff the gates. Crowds gather periodically—when there are bright lights or interesting noise coming off the set—but the people who cluster outside the gates cannot see much and soon wander away.

The film is being made under the title Winds of Change. The vast crew and the actors are sworn to secrecy; no one is supposed to say what movie they are in until after the final wrap. Mehta has vivid, sickening memories of those days in Varanasi after Water was shut down, years of work gone like a discarded garland on the Ganges. And she knows that Muslim protesters have already defeated one production of Midnight’s Children, undertaken by the BBC in Sri Lanka in 1997. She managed to stay below their radar until about a month into the shoot, when the government of Iran, a major investor in new infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, apparently lodged a complaint. David Hamilton, her producer and life partner, launched into a frenzy of activity, making plans to haul the production to South Africa if necessary, where Durban would have to fill in for Mumbai. For four days—to the very edge of how long they could afford to bleed money, their cameras stilled—they waited, and then permission to resume arrived.

Closing in on the end of the shoot, Mehta has relaxed enough to let journalists—or, rather, one journalist—onto her set, and she invites me to come from Delhi, where I’m based with the Globe and Mail. I’m infected with the intense curiosity about the film in India, and fly immediately to Colombo to work on a newspaper article. I find Mehta in the real slum, looking down at the fake one, imagining a shot. She is a diminutive figure, her long, grey-streaked braids tied up with Punjabi tassels that match the bright red print kurta she is wearing over cargo pants. She is also the only person who appears not to be sweating, despite the ferocious heat. Her lighting director wanted a more ominous sky, so crew members burn tires behind the set, filling the air with oily clouds.

In the gentle pastel time warp neighbourhood of Delhi the crew has pieced together, Hamilton looks wildly out of context. He wears golf shirts and plain, gold-rimmed glasses; you have passed a man like him a hundred times in the aisle at Canadian Tire. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, he grew up across the country, including a stint in Yukon, as his family moved with his father’s air force career. He earned a master’s at Harvard University, and a fellowship to travel in India in the ’70s. But he and Mehta met years later, in 1993, at a party hosted by a mutual friend in Toronto. Hamilton gradually gave up work at his high-tech service company to produce her films. He pieced together the almost $11-million budget for Midnight’s Children from Canadian backers, including Telefilm Canada, and his own pocket.

As the night shoot gets under way, Hamilton’s face shows little expression, and he rarely speaks. Waiting for a shot to be set up, Mehta sinks down next to him on a doorstep and rests her head lightly on his shoulder. She begins to anticipate problems in the scenes to come; he gives one-word answers that still her. She believes their polar personalities account for the success of their partnership, crediting his glorious absence of volatility: “He’s the only person who has ever said this to me. When he has a suggestion for me, he says, ‘Don’t reply now’—because he knows my first instinct is always to say no.”

The contrarian default may be her way of guarding the space to see the world her way, to look at the same scene everyone else does and see something different. “It’s like when you squint your eyes and you can see everything, even though it’s not in total focus,” she says. “When you do that, your depth of field increases and you know what is essential.” In Fire, she takes a Delhi joint family, as they are known in India—two brothers, their wives, the ubiquitous mother-in-law, the faithful servant—and she sees the aching loneliness and domestic tedium and stifled dreams that draw the two women into a taboo love affair. For Water, she turned her gaze on Hinduism’s holy city and focused not on the pilgrims and the priests, but on the widows, some children, consigned to penury and near-imprisonment because their husbands had died and their faith says a widowed woman has no worth. There are no Indian filmmakers in India making movies like these. Nor could they be made by an outsider.

She usually brings a Canadian crew with her to Asia, because she knows and trusts them, and because Telefilm funding stipulates that she must do so. But the Canadian crew members don’t look at the wooden floor on a set meant to represent General Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s house in Rawalpindi, the military capital of Pakistan, and know that while shiny and lovely, it is completely wrong, that it must be carpeted. “It’s very difficult to teach the art department or wardrobe about Indian history or details, because it’s not in their experience at all. I always feel I need someone I can trust,” she says. “I need an Indian, and a particular kind of Indian, and I need them to tell me stuff without being apprehensive that they’re telling the director what to do.”

That Indian, in this case, is her brother. A few years younger than Deepa, Dilip Mehta is maybe a foot taller and considerably heavier, moustached and sleek haired and substantial. He is the happy centre of a crowd, whereas she has an elusive quality, always observing with her back to the wall. Dilip has had a successful career as a photojournalist (he is perhaps best known for a portfolio of intimate portraits that came out of his serendipitous friendship with Michael Jackson), but he has also worked on a few of Deepa’s films. On the set, they consult constantly, flipping back and forth between Hindi and English in mid-sentence. He seems to know Deepa’s mind in a way no one, not even Hamilton, does, and mutters terse orders to get her what she wants.

“I’ve worked with different production designers, but never anyone as good as he is,” Deepa says. “It has a lot to do with being a still photographer. He understands what a camera will see. It’s not just about building a wall and putting a photograph of Shiva on it; it’s also seeing where the light is going to hit it and what’s the best angle.” For Midnight’s Children, Dilip flew to Colombo before the shoot at Deepa’s request to check how the production design was coming. He was meant to stay for ten days, he says, but found such a shambles that he took over, scouring old tea estates and talking elderly women into giving up their colonial furniture. He managed to convince one Pakistani émigré matron to let him borrow her Kashmiri carpets, even though her husband loathes Rushdie. Deepa, with characteristic hyperbole, declares that Dilip saved Midnight’s Children.

They have lived in the world of film all their lives, these two. Their father, S.K., was a movie distributor in Punjab, a gentle soul who left his family pharmaceutical business for a riskier, more romantic world. Some of Deepa’s earliest memories are from the family cinemas in Amritsar, where she grew up: of creeping forward to touch the thick cloth of the screen, and of being shown a piece of celluloid, puzzling over how it worked. “I could not understand why something that I couldn’t smell, that didn’t have any dimensions, could make me cry or laugh. How can something evoke emotion when it is not tangible? ” She remembers sitting through her first full-length Hindi movie when she was just seven, and watching some films dozens of times. They saw every movie that came through, from the family box seats after school. Bollywood stars on publicity tours would come to stay with them, and Deepa, in her school uniform, would mingle with the men in black tie and the women in glittering South Indian saris who lounged sipping Scotch—with soda, no ice—on the settee.

It was a seductive world, but Mehta also found it off-putting: her father’s fortunes seemed tied to every film, she says, and he would be so happy near the end of the week, only to plunge into despair when the box office numbers came out the next Monday. He mourned each underperforming movie like a lost friend. She vowed to pursue a less emotionally wrenching career, and studied Indian philosophy at university in Delhi, bound for academia. Around the time she graduated, a close friend asked her to help out as a gofer on a documentary job. It was her first taste of the addictive, gritty mechanics of putting together a story: “I got exposed to the making of films as opposed to seeing them, and it changed everything. It wasn’t sour.”

In 1972, Mehta met Paul Saltzman, a young Canadian filming a documentary in Delhi. They were married a year later, and she followed him to Canada. The silences and the space, both geographic and between people, intrigued her, yet she was sure she would be back in India before long. “I would have never moved… When you’re young, it’s a bit ridiculous. You never think these things will be permanent.”

Together, she and Saltzman set up a small company to make documentaries and eventually features, and Dilip soon joined them. But while the business grew, the marriage deteriorated. She and Saltzman split for good when her first feature, an immigrant story entitled Sam and Me, was screening at Cannes, where it won an honourable mention in the Caméra d’Or category. She found this period “heartbreaking,” she says, because her eleven-year-old daughter, Devyani, chose to live with Saltzman. If not for her, Mehta would have fled back to India then.

Committed to living in Canada, she returned to India in her work. Her first try at a screenplay became Fire, a film rich with lingering shots of its female characters in their everyday tasks, of a dutiful daughter-in-law dusting powder on the bent crone’s wings of her mother-in-law, of stolen moments of freedom that come in carrying the laundry up to the clothesline on the roof. The movie would establish Mehta’s signature style: a minute exploration of domestic life that speaks volumes about the position of women, and other marginalized people, in modern India. Fire, Earth, and Water brought her renown that quickly dwarfed Saltzman’s, but they were not blockbusters. For Indians, they were invasive; in Canada, they were artistic, foreign films.

For much of that time, she still felt more Indian than anything else, she says. “I went to Canada because I married a Canadian… I never used to think of myself as Canadian.” That changed in an instant with the furor that arose when she was trying to make Water in India: “On the flight home, after the film was shut down by the government and we had been harassed for two months, I just had this sense of emotional safety.” An artist could tell this story, any story, in Canada, she thought, and that was priceless. “India gives me the ideas I want to explore,” she says. “Canada gives me the freedom.”

Before her second stab at Water, she made a film that drew more directly on her emerging hybrid identity. The lighthearted Bollywood/Hollywood tells the story of a young Indo-Canadian who hires an escort to play his fiancée, to placate his marriage-obsessed mother. It reached a more mainstream audience than her previous work, and won her a Genie Award for best original screenplay. Her interpretation of Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love did not fare so well in Canada; and Indian critics slammed 2008’s Heaven on Earth (about a young bride from Punjab who finds herself isolated in Toronto with her abusive new husband) for trading in stereotypes. Yet this film, too, is rich with details gleaned from Mehta’s insight as an insider/outsider. She shows the elderly parents-in-law shuffling around a suburban Toronto mall during the day, while they rent out the sofa bed in their tiny home to even more hard-up immigrants to sleep on before the night shift. She shows her heroine wriggling into “suitable” clothes in a tiny airplane washroom just before she first arrives in Toronto, a scene familiar to regulars on the long flight from the subcontinent to Canada.

Mehta herself makes the trip three or four times a year, shuttling between her house in Toronto’s well-to-do Annex neighbourhood and Nizamuddin, an area of similar character in Delhi. Dilip has an astonishing house there (an old, poky stack of flats he converted into what he calls “the only New York brownstone in India”), and Deepa owns an apartment three doors down. But she usually stays with her mother, Vimla, who has a house in between and runs a window covering shop, Blind Love, in the market around the corner.

India today reminds Mehta of Iran just before the fall of the Shah, she says, the sort of dramatic statement she tries out, thinks over, then comes back to defend: “Two hundred million people cannot represent the other 900 million who live in abject poverty. It cannot continue.” She is appalled by the government corruption, aghast at the rise of right-wing Hindu politics and anti-Muslim sentiment, “even among my liberal friends.” And, of course, she decries the barbaric treatment of women, which persists even in ostensibly modernizing India and has been the heart of her best films. Yet there is much on the other side of the ledger: “India is about the most cultured country in the world. Theatre, music, cinema, art—an embarrassment of riches.” She savours the people’s capacity for hospitality, the sophistication of NGOs that take on all of the issues that frustrate her. “Most of all, I love the sense of family,” she says, “the all-encompassing Indian family that embraces you, takes you into its fold.”

A half-dozen years ago, Mehta became friends with Rushdie, an artist whose relationship with India is as conflicted as her own. One night in November 2009, he was in Toronto on a book tour and joined her for dinner (Mehta is known for plying friends with feasts). The two had had desultory conversations about working together, and it came up again that night, as they sat on her living room floor drinking wine. Mehta had thought she might like to make a film of, perhaps, Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown. And then she heard herself ask about Midnight’s Children.

“Done,” said Rushdie.

Mehta’s next thought: “You idiot, Deepa. Can’t you ever learn to keep your mouth shut? ”

Rushdie chose Mehta because she loves the book, and understands it deeply. She also has the ability to draw on both a large canvas and an intimate one, essential for a South Asian epic built on the story of one man’s misadventures. “But most of all, it was that in talking to each other we seemed so often to be speaking out of a shared sensibility,” he explained. That sensibility includes what he calls “stereoscopic vision.” And there was something even simpler: “We just got on very well,” he added. “It’s better to work with people with whom you feel at ease.”

As companionable as they might be, Mehta was not about to take any wild literary flights with the script. “You don’t just write some new scenes for Midnight’s Children, or say to Salman, ‘I think you forgot this one scene.’ ” Ultimately, they agreed to write the adaptation together, working on drafts and trading them. She estimates that about 70 percent of the script is his.

Then came the search for authentic locations (Colombo, which remains more or less unscathed by urbanization, provided plenty) and the people to inhabit them. Mehta went to many of the great Indian actors with whom she has worked before, such as Seema Biswas and Shabana Azmi. But what to do about the midnight child, Saleem Sinai, on whom so much of the film would rest? Her first instinct was to cast a Bollywood superstar such as Saif Ali Khan. But these actors’ fees put them out of range, as did their schedules; Bollywood’s big names typically shoot two or three movies concurrently, and none would have time to shift to Sri Lanka for a secret project for seventy days.

Instead, she went with a complete unknown. Satya Bhabha is half Indian by way of Britain, half German by way of Italy, and very New York. He played a small role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, his only film credit; he was just out of theatre school. Mehta, at a friend’s suggestion, attended one of his productions: “I knew I was looking at Saleem.” She believed he could credibly play the ages of seventeen, twenty-four, and thirty, which not every actor could. “And he’s untouched. If I’d got someone from Bollywood, they come with so much history. Nobody knows him.”

Bhabha, for one, feels confident this is about to change. On the set, he is puffed with ego, which he channels into a suave, helpful demeanour, and talks of how he has “lots of ideas, and I’ve given them to Deepa. We’ve been pretty collaborative in terms of the script.” Asked about this, she rolls her eyes. She lets Bhabha go, most of the time, and then every so often sharply pulls him back in line. “Don’t miss your mark again,” she snaps, after he runs into a scene too soon four times in a row.

It is always there, with Mehta: the flintiness, the hint of ferocity, the potential for evisceration. She has a genuine, penetrative warmth for those who have passed her private assessment of their talent or their interestingness. Her convent school manners, melded with classic Canadian politeness, incline her toward graciousness with strangers. But she is also notoriously dismissive of lousy writers, sycophants, windbag critics, bad actors, and fancy society matrons who rescue street dogs while children starve. She acknowledges that the extremes can be a bit much. “About ten days ago, I decided to start being nice,” she says, pacing her set as technicians experiment with setting curtains on fire. “I became a real bitch. Now they’re all just looking relieved.”

Certainly, her cast and crew step around her with a certain wariness, but most are effusive about the painful pleasure of working with her. “Deepa is very specific about what she wants,” says Bhabha, “but also constantly exploring. She can really want X, then turn around and really want Y. She has an incredibly deep sensibility for truth in human emotion, and if the emotional graph in a scene is not ringing true for her she’ll stop at nothing to get there.” Siddharth, the young south Indian movie star who plays Shiva, Saleem’s switched-at-birth nemesis, with slicked-back hair and mirrored shades, is equally enamoured. “I’ve never been considered badass; I do candy floss,” he cackles, straddling the vintage motorbike he will ride through the slum fire. Then he turns serious: “I’ve used every single emotion in this shoot.”

When the sky is sufficiently smudged with black smoke from the burning tires, Mehta gathers Bhabha and Siddharth in a slum alley. Here they are to have their great showdown. She lets her stunt director coach them through a few fights, then steps forward herself to settle the matter. In a quick sequence of fists and high kicks, she demonstrates the fight as she wants it, then steps back into the shadows and orders the camera to roll.

The fights go off without a hitch. After Siddharth has roared out of the smoke on his motorcycle, his last scene, she gathers the actors on the periphery of the slum rubble. She presents one with a prettily wrapped birthday gift, and another with a soothing throat remedy, and for Siddharth and another who are leaving the set after shooting their final scenes she has traditional garlands to drape around their necks, and handwritten thank-you notes.

“Oh my God, it’s going to be shitty,” Mehta will say out loud, to her brother, her partner, herself, on wrapping the production several weeks after my visit to the set. “The most beloved book of all time. I’m an idiot. Salman is going to hate it.” She will run through the many ways that the film is a disaster, then grab her BlackBerry and text Rushdie, who will reply almost instantly from New York: “Every time I finish a book, I think it’s crap. And sometimes it isn’t.”

For Mehta, the real judgment will come from audiences, in India and beyond, from readers who loved the book, and from those who know nothing of it and will come to it just as to the film itself. “I hope people will like it,” she says. “I think Salman is right that the book is his love letter to India; likewise, the film is something that comes from my deep affection for the country. That’s there, and some people will see it, and some will say the film is anti-India.” She is not anxious about whether an Indian story will play in Canada—“I’ll tell any story I want; they’re all Canadian stories”—but has much more limited expectations that India will embrace her insight. “There is a sense of proprietorship that Indians are starting to have for someone coming from outside,” she says with a sigh. For now, she will be viewed as someone who has thrown in her lot with the outsiders—until the next time she gets nominated for an Oscar, when she will be a local girl again: “It’s like living on quicksand.”

She leaves the celebration on her slum set in full swing near dawn, returning to the luxurious Taj hotel, where she sleeps most of the day. That evening, she piles into a rental car with Hamilton and her brother, and they drive across the city to Tintagel, a chic boutique hotel. Deepa leads the way to a quiet table in the back. Hamilton pulls two chilled bottles of Prosecco from a plastic bag he is toting and hands them to a waiter; the restaurant does not serve its own wine. Deepa muses on the menu, asks what others are having, offers to share, swap, have something different, then sinks back against the banquette. She starts to tell funny stories about misadventures on set. Her brother is a scowling presence opposite her, slumped over his iPhone. The food arrives, but he keeps texting. It emerges that he has committed them all to attending a party of local culturati. Deepa does not want to go. The hosts are holding dinner for them, Dilip says sulkily; Deepa is determined to eat what she has ordered. She suggests a variety of excuses; he rolls his eyes. Deepa goes silent and eats her dinner. Hamilton ignores the entire low-key drama.

After picking at dessert, Deepa acquiesces, and the trio soon arrives at the doorstep of a crumbling colonial apartment building on the elegant Colombo seafront. A wizened doorman, naked but for a sarong, waves them in, and they cram into a tiny gated elevator. He disgorges them on the second floor, and they begin to pace the long, quiet corridors; Dilip does not have the apartment number. At last, they follow the sounds of a party up two more flights of stairs and into an all-white open concept apartment filled with quirky found art, the vast windows open to the wet warmth of the night. Their host comes forward: an avuncular, handsome young man carrying a pitcher of Moscow mules and wearing a Hawaiian shirt. A collection of stylishly dressed young people are lounging on the rattan furniture.

Deepa almost immediately finds herself in the ecstatic embrace of a slight fellow whose traditional sarong is offset by a yellow football jersey, a metal-studded black leather belt, and red rectangular glasses. He has bleached blond, spiky hair and bare feet. She appears equally delighted to see him. Ravi, it emerges, was the hairdresser for Water, and, she explains, helped save the film after a Canadian hairdresser dyed the hair of lead actor Lisa Rani Ray (who is half Bengali and half Polish) pitch black. “She looked like a Goth; all she needed was the black lipstick,” Deepa says. They howl at the memory.

Meanwhile, her brother has plunged into the party, his petulance vanished. Deepa is the guest they have been waiting for, and partygoers hover behind her, waiting for an opportunity to ask about the new film. But as soon as Ravi has released her, she folds in on herself. She sits silently on a couch for a few minutes: her thoughts are on Midnight’s Children, on the scenes that remain, on whether they will get it finished and what it will look like in the editing suite. She wants it done, wants it out there to be judged. After a couple of minutes, she stands, catches Hamilton’s eye, and touches Dilip briefly on the shoulder. Then she makes her way unobtrusively, almost unnoticed, out the door.

This appeared in the November 2012 issue.

Stephanie Nolen is the Globe and Mail's South Asia bureau chief and the author of 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa.

Jaime Hogge has won an Applied Arts Award and an International Digital Emmy and regularly contributes photography to the Grid, Maclean’s, and The Walrus.