Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Review – Salaam Bombay!

September 18, 2007

Salaam Bombay! – India, 1988

Sometimes the hardest movies to watch are the ones that most demand to be seen. Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! is such a film. Salaam Bombay! tells the story of children who either ran away from home, were abandoned or neglected by their parents, or were sold by the very people who were supposed to take care of them. The film offers people a view into a world that should cause embarrassment and shame for anyone accepting it as normal or pretending that it doesn’t exist.

The film’s main character is Chaipau, a young boy whose mother kicked him out. Before she abandoned him at a street fair, his mother told him that he could come back when he had made $500, enough to pay back his brother for the damage that Chaipau did to his business. To accomplish this, Chaipau goes to Bombay, where he delivers tea to the residents of what could only be described as the neglected back alleys of civilization. In the same boat are his best friend, Chillum, a drug addict who sells drugs for Baba, the local drug dealer, and Manju, the daughter of Baba and one of his prostitutes. Joining them against her will is Sulasaal, also known as Sweet 16, a young girl sold into prostitution. As she is brought to her new “home,” she is slapped by her deliverers and ridiculed and gawked at by onlookers. With the exception of Chaipau, not one person tries to help her.

The world that Chaipau navigates his way through is one that is filled with uncaring members of the upper class, parents who one moment are loving and the next are violent or neglectful, and police officers who suspect that every homeless child is a thief. It is also a world of false hopes and lies. For example, it is doubtful that Chaipau could return home even if he raised the required amount of money. In addition, Manju’s mother was promised a better life, only to have to continue selling herself after the birth of her daughter. Moreover, Baba is hired to “tame” Sweet 16 after she tries to escape. He accomplishes this by making her the identical promises that he made Manju’s mother. Towards the end of the film, when Chaipau asks her to run away with him, she shows him a picture that she took with Baba. In it, Baba is holding her hand romantically. Expecting that she will soon be rescued by her supposed knight in shining armor, Sweet 16 does not try to escape when she is delivered to her first customer. Chaipau can only watch as the last of the people he cares about slowly disappears from sight. By the end of the film, the next batch of drug dealers, prostitutes, and lost children has arrived, but instead of being outraged and sickened, people celebrate outside, perhaps oblivious to or simply uninterested in the suffering of the lost generation around them.

5 stars

Salaam Bombay! is in Hindu with white English subtitles.

*In her 2004 book 50 facts that should change the world, Jessica Williams reports that there are 44 million child laborers in India.

No comments: