Salaam Bombay!, a new film by Indian-born director Mira Nair, deals with the lives of children living in Bombay’s teeming streets. The film has already garnered prizes at Cannes and Montreal, but more remarkable are the actors that play the roles and the director’s plans for its profits.
Nair made four documentaries before turning to fiction, but she retained a determination to present life in its true complexity. For this purpose she and her assistants (including a child psychologist) selected children directly from the streets of Bombay to act in the film, worked with them closely over many weeks, and continued the relationship after filming.
"Our whole attitude was to meet them halfway and help them realize their own self-worth and dignity," said Nair in a recent interview with The Christian Science Monitor (12 Oct 1988, p.19). "[We] wanted to help them create opportunities they want for themselves." Responding to this respectful approach, some children entered school, some returned home to their villages, some got jobs, and some have stayed on the streets.
Nair is using proceeds from the film to open learning centers for street children in both Bombay and Delhi. "They’ve become almost invisible in India; when you see so many, they become invisible," the director said. "It’s like the way materialism … is invisible in the United States. It’s so normal, so natural, that you stop thinking how absurd it is!"