Can films change the world? ......
Can films change the way you and I see the world? Yes. Salaam Bombay did that when first released in 1988. Now, decades and numerous awards (including a National Award, Camera D'or at 41st Cannes festival) later, producer/director, Mira Nair's first feature film remains as powerful, as contemporary, as relevant and as moving.
Very rarely does a film draw you in, gets you so involved with the characters that by the end, you actually want to reach out and help. Krishna and Manju are two such street children of Bombay in the late eighties.
The story (Mira Nair, Sooni Taraporevala) and screenplay (Sooni Taraporevala), simply suck you in just like the tricky by lanes of the red light area in Grant Road, Bombay, and just like the inhabitants, you are never free of the glaring harsh reality of street life.
The characters need no introduction the moment their nicknames are called out by each other. Chaipau (Shafiq Syed), the boy who delivers tea from door to door...Sola Saal (Chanda Sharma), the young, Nepali girl being prepared for the first customer to sell her body to...Keeda, the notorious street kid,..Chillam (Raghubir Yadav), the drug peddler who is doomed and addicted to "the father of all poisons”. The only people who retain their own names are the ones seemingly leading better lives...Baba(Nana Patekar, perfect in soft menace),the retired pimp who looks after the prostitute he has 'saved',Rekha(Aneeta Kanwar, fabulously understated) and their daughter, Manju (Hansa Vithal), who spends nights outside the bedroom door 'scratching' on it while the mother entertains a customer or Baba.
A circus in a village shuts down, leaving a 10-year-old boy, Krishna, unemployed. He runs away and lands up on the Bombay streets amongst garbage pickers, prostitutes, pimps and drug peddlers. His name and identity is forgotten with his newfound job of delivering tea. He is now called Chaipau. He carefully saves very penny so that he can go back to his mother with Rs 500,the price of a scooter he has destroyed. The garbage guy cum drug peddler, Chillam (Raghubir Yadav)becomes his closest friend. Chaipau spends his time playing with Manju and her mother and secretly helping the pretty 'sola saal' by offering her free chai and sneaking in biscuits to brothel room number 109.
Watch out for the most poignant scene of Manju gulping down a packet of biscuits, all by herself hiding in a corner....a very fine example of layered writing. This is not just a hungry kid enjoying her biscuits. This is starvation, jealousy and street life of survival battles; eating into the hungry bones of vulnerable hearts and young love.
The film, shot on 52 locations (including railway stations, Kamathipura lanes and graveyards) in 52 days, using street children to play key roles, goes on to capture the raw, vibrant, sometimes cruel, sometimes spirited energy of the city underbelly whose wounds gape open on the dirty streets; unseen or ignored by the rest of the world. The vivid images include street children stealing their moments of fun, dancing to "mera naam chin chin choo.." playing on the radio, staring at Sridevi crooning "hawa hawai" on the big screen, role playing the traffic policeman, riding in a chariot at midnight, stolen samosas tucked inside the rags, drunk on liquor, high on skyscraper dreams. Realistic dialogues (Hriday Lani), a well wielded, very involving camera work(Sandi Sissel),fine, subtle editing (Barry Alexander Brown),L. Subramaniam's music and a masterful, sensitive, almost invisible direction by Nair, all put together makes this film technically worthy of the innumerable awards it has won.
Every actor slips into the character with ease; right from Shafiq Syed as Chaipau to Hansa Vithal as Manju to Nana Patekar to Aneeta Kanwar to Raghubir Yadav. Shafiq ,breathes in life as well as death, especially in the last heart-wrenching frame.
Chaipau's involvement with the tormented lives of Chillam,Sola Saal, Manju and her mother; provides him his own worldview. At the same time, it also ends up changing your world view as the viewer; which is exactly what Mira Nair set out do. As she says in her foreword in her book, 'Salaam Bombay' .."It did change the world. And it continues to do so for more than 5000 street kids each year who come through our Salaam Balak Trust centres in Bombay and Delhi."
So yes, films can change the world. Salaam Mira Nair. Salaam Sooni Taraporevala. Thank you, PVR for rescreening 'Salaam Bombay'.