Meera Nair's Salaam Bombay
was her first film, and one of only three Indian films nominated for an Oscar (the others being Mother India
). The deceptively simple documentary style hides a meticulously planned feature in which nothing is left to chance. Real street kids play the leads alongside veteran actors, such as Nana Patekar and Shaukat Azmi, as we follow Chaipau, the urchin who wants to save his 500 rupees to "go home", and his encounters with prostitutes, thugs and drug addicts among whom he finds love and companionship. The story avoids sentimentality by endowing the characters with humanity while never romanticising their plight.
Nair eschews the obvious "city of contrasts" theme, presenting only the view from the street, shooting in real locations of Grant Road and its environs. This is one of the greatest presentations of Bombay to date, comparable across genres to Raghu Rai's photography or Vikram Chandra's fiction.
On the DVD: Salaam Bombay on DVD includes a compelling scene-by-scene commentary, in which Nair discusses the problems of location shooting, training the children and the impact of the film on the lives of so many of its characters. The film is in Hindi with English subtitles. --Rachel Dwyer
Fed up with being continuously bullied by his elder brother, Krishna sets fire to his brother's motor-bike, which lands him in big trouble with his mother. She takes him to the nearby Apollo Circus and tells him that he can only come home when he earns 500 rupees to pay for the damaged bike. Krishna agrees and finds a job with the circus, but one day his boss asks him to run an errand and when Krishna returns, he finds that the circus has packed up and left. Alone and with nowhere to turn, and unable to find the money to repay his mother, he decides to travel to the nearest big city - Mumbai (Bombay). As soon as he arrives, he is robbed of all his meager possessions. He follows the thieves and befriends them, and ends up in the city's notorious red-light area of Falkland Road, near the Grant Road Railway Station. One of the thieves, Chillum, also a drug pusher and addict, helps Krishna get a job at the "Grant Road Tea Stall." Krishna gets a new name, "Chaipau," and learns to live with it. His goal is to get the money he needs to return home to his mother, but he soon finds out that saving money in his surroundings with the people near him is next to impossible. To make matters worse, he has a crush on a young prostitute named Sola Saal. He sets fire to her room and attempts to escape with her, but the two are caught. This gets Krishna a severe beating, and he loses his job. He works odd jobs to feed himself and look after Chillum, who can't live without his drugs. To get more money, Krishna and his pals rob an elderly Parsi man by breaking into his house in broad daylight. One night while returning home, the boys are apprehended by the police and taken to a juvenile home. Eventually, Krishna escapes and goes back to his world of drug-pushers, pimps and prostitutes, still nurturing his dream of one day returning to his mother.