Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Salaam Bombay!: 20 years before Slumdog Millionaire

I must be the last person in Britain not to have seen Slumdog Millionaire, but the more I read about it the more it reminds me of another film.

Salaam Bombay!, directed by Mira Nair, was released in 1988. It won the Audience Award at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Roger Ebert's review for the Chicago Sun Times describes the genesis of the film:
The history of the making of "Salaam Bombay!" is almost as interesting as the film itself. The filmmakers gathered a group of the street children of Bombay and talked with them about their experiences, visiting the streets and train stations, bazaars and red-light districts where many of them lived. Out of these interviews emerged a screenplay that was a composite of several lives.
Then many of the children were enlisted for weeks in a daily workshop, not to teach them "acting" (for that they already knew from hundreds of overacted Indian film melodramas), but to teach them how to behave naturally in front of the camera.
Out of those workshops a cast gradually emerged, and it was clear almost from the start that the star was an 11-year-old street child named Shafiq Syed, whose history was unknown, but who proved to be such a natural filmmaker that he sometimes reminded the directors of errors in continuity.
And he also discusses some of the questions it raises:
One of the questions asked, but not answered, by the film is, what should be done about these children?
At one point Chaipau and some friends are rounded up by the police and herded into a large institution that combines the worst features of an orphanage and a prison, but that doesn't seem to be the answer, and we are left with the troubling impression that in Bombay, at any event, the children seem to fare better on the streets. There they have an identity, and a measure of hope.
Of course, in the best of possible worlds something would be "done" about them, but "Salaam Bombay!" takes place far from such a world, and the movie is about children doing the best they can for themselves.
This is a philosophy that would have appealed to Charles Dickens. And I remember Salaam Bombay! as a thoroughly Dickensian film, though he might well have provided a more conventional happy ending.

It sounds as though Slumdog Millionaire does this. Maybe it will prove to be a less satisfactory film as a result?

8 comments:

Chris Black said...

Don't worry I've not seen it either....

HE Elsom said...

Salaam Bombay came out in 1988 -- there's a typo in para 2, though the headline is right.

Frank H Little said...

I don't remember the same outcry from Indians about the depiction of Bombay/Mumbai in "Salaam Bombay" as there has been about the more recent film. Perhaps the chattering classes are becoming more touchy with increasing affluence.

Jonathan said...

Thanks, HE. I have changed it.

Marge Yu said...

Slumdog Millionaire is certainly very well scripted and directed...a spectacular film and a salute to Mira Nair indeed after 20 years ( she was against all odds whilst shooting Salaam Bombay which was a total departure to the staples of Bollywood that only celebrates heros and beauties and fantasies )

Bombay may have become Mumbai..but 20 years later, the chaos continues...

chaat paapdi said...

Mira Nair got the same flak for Salaam Bombay from mainstream society and the mainstream media in India that Slumdog Millionaire is getting now. Loved both films. And you're right, Slumbog reminded me a lot of Salaam Bombay.

Sapatwalla said...

Mira Nair as well as her talented screenwriting partner Sooni Taraporevala http://www.soonitaraporevala or http://www.avanprojects.com rose above any flak and really changed the course of Indian independent cinema, as Salaam Bombay's now a classic here and there.

Ana Yoerg said...

Films that really get into the human trafficking issue:

Born Into Brothels
http://www.kids-with-cameras.org/bornintobrothels/film.php

Rescued from Mumbai Brothels
http://explore.org/explore/india/films/65