Release Year: 1988
Distributor : Cinecom Pictures (US)
Director : Mira Nair
Producer : Mira Nair / Gabriel Auer
Screenplay: Mira Nair / Soony Taraporevala
Cast : Shafiq Syed / Tara Iasrado / Chanda Sharma
Music : L. Subramaniam
Cinematography : Sandy Sissel
Editing : Barry Alexander Brown
Duration : 113 minutes
The story about Mumbai street life was recorded on Salaam Bombay! (1988). Slums house, prostitution, cadger, were complicated social reality that happened in that corner town. Mumbai’s life oftentimes became the inspiration of Indian or non-Indian director. For instance, Satya (1998) or the newest Slumdog Millionaire (2008). SB! did not only expressed the social reality in Mumbai, but also had effort to interpret those reality as a social reflection in the third world.
Just like other social movies, it adhered to the reality and tried to raise the universal humanity side. The character allowed to act naturally in front of the camera. Surprisingly, they were not a professional actresses and actors. They were just street people who had been trained before pictures taking. The mixture of some visual element in this movie was interested to discuss, based on the subjective society perception. The city element like shelter house was briefly discussed; especially the room dialectics intersected with the characters.
The story was about a kid named Khrisna (Syafiq Syed). Because of his omission, burned the motorcycle of his brother customer, he had been asked to pay the damage cost 500 Rs. Then his mother engaged him to work part time together at touring circus. When her boss asked her to buy the tobacco, Khrisna was left alone, then he escaped to the closest town, Mumbai.
In Mumbai, his things was stolen, he followed the thieves, unexpectedly he made friends with them. Then he had new name “Chaipau”. He lived with them around the station. For paying back his debt (500 Rs), he worked at a tea shop. All the outcome, he saved in a saving hole that was suggested by his friend a drugs addict, Chillum. By dint of his job, he met Sola (Sweet 16), a girl that would be a courtesan, he interested with her, then he engaged her to run together, nevertheless she was caught by the pimp. He lost his job.
He had to find a new job, he robbed an old Parsee who became a waitress in a wedding. Chillum finally pathetically died. On one night, he and Manju without ID card were caught by civil services. Subsequently, they were put in a vagrant shelter. Chaipau ran away, he wanted to take his saving money, but it was gone. Chillum took it before, to buy drugs that led him to death.
The scene when Chaipau escaped from shelter happened for four times. The camera backtracked opposite to Chaipau movement which was running on the street. There were cars, motorcycles, and bicycles behind him, as if they chased Chaipau who terrified about his money. He rushed to the hole where he saved his money, but the money was gone, only a toy was left.
The combination of visual element, as if Chaipau and the vehicles were overlapping. If the visual just to emphasize Chaipau, the vehicle should be shot vaguely. Otherwise, those visual element preceded each other. It considered as hierarchical visual construction. The vehicle that referred to the city establishment pushed the existence of a homeless Chaipau which polluted the beauty of town.
Another great scene, when Chaipau sad because his lost money. The camera moved slowly, shot whole body to half body. Chaipau contemplated his faith, held a toy that he found at the hole. His hope was totally lost with the money.
This visual element combination might referred to something; though it was dominated by his swollen face. He took a toy from his pocket, completed him in his reverie. The toy was a mark tied with hope and destiny as an abstract marker. A toy that could rotate, meant that life must go on.
Home became an intimate space; where people could ensconced and took shelter. Home for Chaipau was not the same with general definition of home. Home which a neglected spaces where he stayed with his friends around the station, that was the definition. In a spare time, he came by at house of Manju’s mother, who was a prostitute. While a maintained shelter was not a suitable home for Manju and Chaipau.
Mumbai Shelter might be a synonym of Bachelard’s epistemology about Houses in Paris in1950s. According to him, at la poetique de l’espace, in Paris we had never found a house. Every house own a number which indicated our existence. A proper Mumbai Shelter, might not a dream home for a homeless like Chaipau.
Paris was a busy oceans (la mer bruyante). Metaphoric Bachelard’s mind could described two opposite sides of Mumbai, like the homophones the word sea-mother (la mer-la mere) from phenomenological viewpoint. As the antagonist, the city showed its dread and invisible power to all people, especially the vagrant. As the protagonist, the city protected the people. Social life, night life, street life of every town became the infinite inspiration to the director for starting involved in their surrounding social reality, and poured it into visual language.
Movie Enthusiast and former writer at Montase