Salaam Bombay! (Nair, 1988)

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Chaipau: “Chillum, the sky is spinning.

Chillum: “Let the fucker spin!”

– Two street kids discuss the psychological and spiritual ramifications of drugs.

Mira Nair’s worthy debut film walks a fine line between art house and mainstream, relishing a regional flavor and substance while cleverly hiding familiar character and story archetypes underneath. Nair’s slice of Indian street life isn’t all that original when you break down the elements; pimp/drug dealer, whore with a heart of gold, savvy urchins, social problems run amok. But Salaam Bombay has a charm and grace to offset the tragic subject matter and this can be attributed to Nair’s excellent work with the non-professional actors, especially the child protagonists. She’s a born director and Salaam Bombay has many moments that represent her skill. I just wish Nair would take some more risks with her material (The Namesake being the latest horrific example of her descent into mediocrity).

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