1000 Great Films
(c) 2009, William L. Sinclair

Salaam Bombay!

Mira Nair, 1988, India (10*)
This is one of the great Asian films. One a few films I'd call a masterpiece, and probably my favorite film by a female director, replacing Lina Wertmuller's Seven Beauties.

Unbelievably, this is director Mira Nair's first feature film - "fiction" that is. (Most will recognize Monsoon Wedding as hers, which wasn't nearly this good). After making 5 documentaries, she wanted to show the indominable spirit of these kids and their everyday struggle for survival. She used only 3 pro actors (the Madame, Aneeta Kanwar as Rakah the prostitute, Ragubir Yaday as Chillum the street addict), and 24 children of the streets of Bombay (almost none of whom could read the script!), selected from over 150 she had put into her special acting workshop she set up to cast this movie. Shafiq Syed is the amazing lead actor, as Chiapau/Krishna, and 11-yr old kicked out of his home and told not to come back until he could repay 500 rupees; he now delivers tea daily in the brothel district.

Nair based this on her experiences filming India Cabaret, a documentary about strippers, and meeting a lovable "chai wallah", or tea delivery boy (like in Slumdog Millionaire, which owes a lot to this film and Fernando Mierelles' City of God), who personally brought tea to the strippers daily at 4pm. She got financial assistance from the government in making this, giving her access to harsh prison/orphanages, closed to private filmmakers. She then used the profits from the film to set up 3 homes for street kids, which has grown now to 17. KUDOS all-around for making a social film that actually brought change to Indian society in the way they treat and educate orphans, and showed the world a terrific story, beautifully composed by Nair and shot by cinematographer Sandi Sissel, who, along with Nair, provides commentary for the film. Nair says she was strongly influenced by still photography, leading her to carefully compose every frame.

At the film's close, after all the other credits, it says "52 locations in 52 days. No Guts, No Glory". This is a great movie and DVD, an overall cinematic artistic experience. If you like Slumdog, this is even better; it's more real, harder hitting, makes the viewer care a lot more for all involved. I would watch both commentaries as well. Deservedly won Nair the best new director award at Cannes in 1988.

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