It’s difficult to be a fence-sitter with regards to Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! – either finding in it a brutally realist fable on street children surviving and striving for tiny dreams (howsoever elusive or futile), or, contrarily, a patronizing and voyeuristic outside-in fetishization of poverty. I’m inclined to belong to the former bucket, albeit not unconditionally. The film’s key focus is Krishna (Shafiq Syed), a young kid bullied out of his home and left stranded by a travelling circus, who takes refuge on the footpaths in Bombay’s sprawling red light area. There, as tea delivery boy to the brothel, he befriends the hapless drug addict Chillum (Raghuvir Yadav) who’s nearing the end of his rope, gets attracted to a teenaged victim of sex trafficking (Chanda Sharma), and develops love-hate relationships with other other kids who’re more hardened on account of longer exposure to this grit. Drug peddler and former pimp Baba (Nana Patekar), single mother and prostitute Rekha (Anita Kanwar), and her little lonely girl were other key characters. Nair – in a display of artistic integrity and empathy – deployed actual street kids in the roles, and also setup a trust to try rehabilitate them. The sequence where the sociopathic Baba casually torments the vulnerable Chilum in front of a dumbfounded foreign journalist (Sanjana Kapoor) unprepared for the casual display of violence, was lashing and disturbing. And the natural performances by the urchins – in their street lingo, their spirit of anarchy, their sense of small freedoms amidst the squalor, their disdain for norms – was arguably the film’s best aspect, with its grimy realism complemented by a sparsely used score comprising of violins, sitar and tabla, and cinéma vérité style photography.
Director: Mira Nair
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama