Wednesday, April 08, 2009

World Movie Series - 15 - Salaam Bombay!

India has slums all over its span. We see slums in every city we visit. Chennai, in fact has hundreds of people living on the platforms. While it was raining cats and dogs during last November, I saw the pathetic sight of the poor people shifting to the platforms of Egmore railway station, for many days. Every night when I leave the station, I have seen them shivering in the cold, lying down bereft of a blanket to cover them. I really doesn’t know what will be the future of our so called ‘shining India’ if this is the case in every state. These people must get a proper livelihood, and more importantly, the poor children of the slums and platforms must be educated well. Without addressing the amenities of the people living in slums, how can a country become a superpower?

After seeing ‘Salaam Bombay!’, I felt like I’ve been slapped hard. This film shows the striking reality which hides behind the poor slum people.

The film begins in a circus. The final show is finished and the circus is being packed up. The Manager calls Krishna, a little boy working in the circus, to buy some pan masala from the nearby village, and gives him 100 rupees. Krishna enthusiastically runs all the way to the far off village, and when he returns with the pan masala, the place is deserted. There is not even a single sign of a circus which was there some time ago. Bewildered, Krishna gradually understands the reality that he has been deserted, and walks to the nearby railway station, buys himself a ticket for the ‘nearby big town’ and lands up in Bombay.

Krishna gets robbed of his pan masala by a few children. He runs after them, and after a while, becomes a friend with them. We get to see Chillam, the Ganja seller. An addict himself, he helps Krishna to find a job as a ‘Chaipau’, the tea seller. From that day, everyone call Krishna by the name Chaipau, and he becomes like a routine machine, which is one among the million machines in Mumbai.

Krishna often goes to a brothel to sell tea, and once, he sees a young girl abducted in to the brothel. She is called ‘Sola saal’ and is beautiful, naïve and doesn’t want to be there. Krishna gives her a tea glass, and she throws it down. Krishna again gives her another glass, and this time she drinks it. A friendship blossoms between them.

Krishna also gets to see Baba, the feckless pimp. He supplies ganja to Chillam. Baba’s wife Rekha, a prostitute herself, and her daughter, the little Manju are kind towards Krishna, and Manju becomes his playing partner.

Chillam increasingly becomes a Ganja addict, and is unable to live without it. But, since Chillam embezzled the money from a foreign couple for selling ganja, Baba drives him away. This makes Chillam angry but since he doesn’t have any job, gradually becomes sick, and tries to kill himself. Krishna borrows money from Rekha and gets ganja for Chillam. Meanwhile, Krishna once tries to run away from the brothel with ‘Sola saal’ but gets caught, beaten and driven away.

Krishna’s employer drives him away from work stating some silly reason and gives him some money for his service. We see Chillam die, as his addiction kills him. All the little boys carry Chillam’s body through the streets where he lived, mechanically chanting god’s name.

One day, while returning from a marriage where the boys served as waiters, a policeman arrests Krishna and Manju. Krishna is taken to a rehabilitation centre while Manju, to an orphanage. Manju’s mother Rekha hurries to recover Manju but is being told by the warden that it’s safe for Manju to remain in the centre, as she will later be adopted by some wealthy couple, which will result in Manju’s bright future, instead of spending all her life as a prostitute like Rekha.

Krishna escapes the centre. He runs to his streets, to continue his search for a job and money. Rekha gets heartbroken from Manju’s loss, and packs her bags to leave to her native town. Baba tries to stop her. Krishna arrives at that moment, stabs Baba and runs away with Rekha. It’s a huge procession outside. The Ganesh Chaturthi. They both are separated in the crowd, and Krishna slowly walks in to a deserted street.

We see Krishna, sitting there, without having the slightest clue about his life. He has lost his money, is a dweller in the streets of Bombay, doesn’t have any friends and has lost Chillam and Rekha, a few to show at least a hint of affection on him. He is like a tiny atom, having lost in the huge universe around it. What will the atom do? Will it be at least recognized? What will happen to its future?

With all these unanswered questions, the movie ends with a tight close up of Krishna’s gloomy face.

‘Salaam Bombay’ portrays the ‘real’ India. The India which mercilessly stabs people, the India which sells Ganja, the India which sells innocent girls to brothels, the India where wives become prostitutes, the India where little girls watch their mom having sex with strangers, the India which doesn’t care a damn about little boys roaming in the streets, the real India which is like a huge monster swallowing all these people.

It has striking scenes, where the children carry Chillam’s body in to the streets, the robbing of an old man’s house by the same children who do it as if they are in to a party, the little Manju watching her mom having sex with her customers – some scenes which will never leave our heart. This is a real attempt to capture and portray the pain these people suffer.

‘Salaam Bombay!’ was directed by Mira Nair and was released in 1988. It won awards at the Cannes and the Montreal film festivals, and was also nominated for the best foreign film at the Oscars. Mira Nair formed a trust – the Salaam Baalak trust - for the poor children living in the streets of Bombay and it effectively educates them, till date. You must have seen the programs on Indian television about this as soon as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ got released. This film is more real than Slumdog, and strikingly tells us about thousands of unheard and unuttered stories of the little children, belonging to the platforms. Go see it, and get a hold of the ‘real’ India.

See the trailer here.


Shree said...

I read recently that the kid who played the role of Krishna (Shafiq Syed) is now an auto driver in Bangalore and is still aspiring to be a movie director :)

The article also said that though he received the best child actor award back then, he did not get any other role or recognition after that and as would be his fate, became a kid of the slums even after all the glory.

This is what happens in India... be famous for a few months and go back to where you belong. I don't know if the Salaam Baalak group took care of Shafiq Syed and gave him something extra.

Life is not just rainbows and sunshine... there is more that what meets our eye... Our eyes are trained to see only the bright side of the coin and we seldom see what happens on the other side.. in the dark. We need to train ourselves to first SEE whats happening in the shadows and then take measures to bring light there as well.

The S c o r p said...

Yes Shree. The trust took care of him and it's because of the trust he is an auto driver today. It helped him to buy the auto. I saw his interview on TV..

Yes. We must bring brightness to the darker side. I completely agree.

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