The makers of ‘Midnight’s Children’ are known for their anti-fundamentalist stance, but the production of the film in Sri Lanka raises questions.
At sunrise, Saleem parachutes from a Pakistani Air Force transporter plane with a mission to kill. But he arrives too late in what was then East Pakistan – the Pakistani Army has already lost to the Bengali Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) and the Indian Army. Mass killings of Bengali civilians had taken place at the hands of Yahya Khan’s ruthless army. Among the trapped Pakistani soldiers is Saleem, a young recruit in the Pakistani army. He finds himself in the midst of a lush green landscape, wearing his helmet, protective glasses and uniform. The camera slowly ascends to capture the beautiful Bengali wetlands, and moves over piles of half-naked bodies, spread over the wet grass, mingling with the idyllic landscape. Smoke rises in the distance from behind the jungle. Saleem limps past dead civilians in his Pakistani uniform. A singing farmer appears. The only living person in sight, he desperately tries to catch up with Saleem. He rushes past half-naked, blood-smeared bodies of men, both Mukti Bahini and ordinary farmers, who seem to have been handcuffed and executed. Some of the dead are blindfolded, too. Sounds of gunfire can be heard in the background. The fighting is still raging, it appears, despite Pakistan’s official capitulation. The farmer catches up with Saleem, who trips and falls into a puddle surrounded by dead bodies. He examines Saleem, who lies exhausted and wordless, before helping him up. Saleem stares in confusion at the bodies around him. The farmer tells Saleem about Pakistan’s defeat. Saleem and the man suddenly get into a fight over a silver basin Saleem is carrying. Saleem clings to the item and walks off, looking confused. The farmer throws a sarong at him, instructing him to change out of his army uniform. This is now Bangladesh.
*Sinthujan Varatharajah is a PhD student in political geography at the University College London, University of London. Follow him on twitter @varathas.