THE WEEK'S other major novel-to-screen project is "Midnight's Children," with a screenplay by Salman Rushdie, who wrote the prize-winning book.

It's a sprawling, whimsical epic about the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1947 that had me wondering if Rushdie is an "X-Men" fan.

The title characters are children born at the stroke of midnight on the date of Britain's abdication - they arrive the same moment as the newly minted nations, and because of it, are magically blessed with special powers.

Saleem (Satya Bhabha) is a telepath who has the power to summon all of midnight's children to his presence, there is a witch (Shriya Saran) with a basket of invisibility (crucial to the plot), and Shiva (Siddharth) whose burning core of anger becomes a gift for power and militancy. He's the Magneto of the piece, and he rises as a strongman who ruthlessly enacts some of Indira Gandhi's less popular policies - targeting the other "gifted" children in the process.

He grows up poor, but his fate is always linked to that of Saleem, a child of privilege - they were switched at birth, and Saleem always knows he is living the life meant for another boy.

The children represent social castes, regions and religions, and their lives, taken together, describe the complex soul of a sundered nation, a people who do not know (or forget) they are a people.

The movie is gorgeous (a word that could also apply to any of the movie's array of stunning Indian/Pakistani actresses), it's teeming with ideas and motifs, maybe too many - for all of its considerable powers of invention, the movie struggles to find emotional focus as it grows wilder, broader and much, much longer (it's 140 minutes).

Still, like Baz Lurhmann's new "Gatsby," it's so massively ambitious it illicits a certain amount of good will. About a hundred minutes worth.

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