“The brutality of the mean streets of Mumbai” would be the ideal way to describe the 1988 Bollywood movie Salaam Bombay. Directed by the talented Mira Nair, this brilliant movie documents the harsh daily lives of street children living in the city of Mumbai. Having won the prestigious National award, this movie represented India in the 1989 Oscars under the “Best Foreign Film” category. And so, here is presenting an analysis of Salaam Bombay to illuminate the reasons why this movie has not only garnered accolades but also, developed into a cult classic over the years for movie buffs around the globe.

a. The story/screenplay/editing of Salaam Bombay:

“Street life in Mumbai” is the theme on which the story of this great movie has been based on. It begins with a child named Krishna (Shafiq Saeed) who comes to Mumbai to earn Rs 500 so that he can repay his mother for burning the motorcycle of his brother. It is on arriving in the city that he befriends a drug addict Chillum (Raghuvir Yadav) and a few street kids. He then begins working as a tea seller in the notorious Falkland Road (also known as the Red Light Area). It is in this area that he also gets rechristened as “Chaipau”. Furthermore, as the story moves along we are introduced to fascinating characters such as Baba (Nana Patekar) a drug dealer, and his wife Rekha (Anita Kanwar) a prostitute, and Sola Saal (Chanda Sharma) a young prostitute and Chaipau’s love interest. The rest of this grim yet gripping movie revolves around how Krishna deals with the brutalities of life that the mean streets of Mumbai teach him.

The screenplay of this story written by Mira Nair and Sooni Taraporevala has been handled with a great deal of sensitivity. It has also been written in such way that the “brutality” that street children face in the Mumbai city is clearly evident while watching the movie. Furthermore, the true to life dialogues written by the writers only helps add more spark to the realistic story and screenplay. On the other hand, the crisp editing by Barry Alexander Brown ensures that the movie flows along at a good rhythm without ever seeming to drag along.

b. The “performances” of the star cast of Salaam Bombay:

“Brilliant and mesmerizing” would be the apt way to describe the performances of the entire star cast. The stand out performers being the actual street children including the protagonist Shafiq Syed and his love interest Chanda Sharma, who prove that natural acting does not actually require intense training. The supporting cast including Nana Patekar as the drug seller and his prostitute wife Anita Kanwar are also brilliant and, enact their part with great deal of truthfulness. However, it is Raghuveer Yadav as the drug addict “Chillum” that provides for an absolute riveting performance. The scene in which he is desperately seeking to satiate his craving for drugs is a classic example of the brilliance that this magnificent actor possesses.

c. The “cinematography” and “direction” of Salaam Bombay:

“Raw and real” would be the best way to describe the cinematography of this movie done by Sandi Sissel. The fact that throughout the movie, the city of Mumbai especially Falkland Road has been captured exactly how it actually looks when seen with the eyes, is truly worth admiring, and credit for it must be given to the Sissel.  Above all, the brilliance of this movie is all due to the excellent direction provided by Mira Nair, the director. From writing the brilliant story to extracting some amazing cinematography and terrific performances, Nair handles every department with lots of finesse. She also manages to tell a story extremely well with the use of minimal background score and music, which is rarely seen in Bollywood movies and credit for pushing the envelope with regards to filmmaking, must be given to her.

Having watched quite a few movies based in Mumbai, I can confidently say that, if you intend to watch a movie that exposes the “brutality found on the streets of maximum city”, then Salaam Bombay is a movie that must be watched.


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