Salaam Bombay!, nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1989, is a story about a young boy forced to leave his family at a very young age and face a sorrowful life of growing up in the littered slums of Bombay. Krishna sleeps on the streets with the other homeless "Bumpkin" children, selling tea for 5 rupees a day and saving money to go home. In the meantime, however, Krishna finds a makeshift family on the streets. He gives "Sweet Sixteen"—an internee at the local brothel whose virginity caught a high price—little gifts: a stolen baby chick, crackers wrapped in paper. But Sixteen's heart belongs to Baba, the baneful brothel owner, who helps her get "acclimated" to life there and promises to someday take her away. Chillum, a drug dealer and addict who works for Baba, is Krishna's father figure.
Surrounded by crooks, druggies, and prostitutes, Krishna stays on the path of the straight and narrow. But when hardship after hardship befalls him, his courage is tested and we watch him become a man. Director Mira Nair leads us through a maze of feelings that are not tied up neatly with a bow at the film's end—a refreshing change of pace. Special features include five documentaries shot in India, audio commentary by Nair and cinematographer Sandi Sise, a picture gallery, and the theatrical trailer. The anamorphic presentation looks very good. The picturesque vistas and warmth of the opening scenes before Krishna takes the train to Bombay are contrasted with care to the streets of the city, with their dirty and ramshackle but colorfully pastel buildings. The dialogue is in Hindi, with English subtitles. The sound is fine; the center is active, but the surrounds are reserved for background information such as cars whizzing by. L. Subramaniam's rhythmic music is exotic and beautiful, featuring tabla drums that vibrate the low midrange.
Salaam Bombay! explores the strength of a boy's soul and exposes the tenderness and brutality of the lives of India's street-reared children. It takes you out of your world into one of squalor and betrayal, and in the process says a lot about the human spirit and its boundaries. Not to be missed.—KR