India, 1988 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Mira Nair

With Salaam Bombay!, Mira Nair, here directing her first feature, has made a unique film that is at once both faithful to it's very specific roots and yet accessible to western audiences.Asa result, the film has become one of the two or three top foreign films of the 88/89 international calendar, and the most successful Indian film in at least the last decade.

Set in the red light district of Bombay it's a story of a 10 year old country boy's first encounter of the ever present chaos that is this extraordinary city. The only job he can find is that of 'chaipau' (teaboy) and he is soon taken in as one of the street family, of beggars, prostitutes, drug pushers and thiefs.

Shot entirely on the streets and using a cast of predominately non-actors to create a vivid, authentic streetscape, Salaam Bombay! offers an insiders view of the poverty and squalor that is life for so many of the cities inhabitants. For a film about such hopelessness, it's surprisingly cheering, not because Nair has sentimentalized the scene, but because, being Indian herself she understands the particular reality of what appears to us tourists, to be hopelessness. Seen close up, rather than through the window of a taxi, despair is not so easily recognizable. Life, always on the edge of disaster, is coped with if not always with success.

'Salaam Bombay! is the realisation of a five-year-old dream; a desire to make a film that celebrated the spirit of survival in Bombay's street children — their humour, strength, dignity and flamboyance in a world that denies them the luxury of childhood. I wanted to make this film not with professional child actors playing out a reality that is foreign to them, but rather with children from the street: those who know of the harsh reality of being alone in a cruel city, uncertain of their next meal, frightened that their slippers will be stolen off their feet.

The film was made with 19 spirited and expressive children from the streets of Bombay, a few key 'stars' from the Indian film industry and an international crew, eschwing studios, using instead the streets, railway platforms, brothels and alleys of Bombay's underworld as its canvas. It presents a portrait of a city as yet unseen by outsiders.

I have always been drawn to stories of people who live on the margins of society. In my own way, Salaam Bombay! gives the 'small change' (Hindi slang for children of the gutter) a voice.'- Mira Nair

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