The Stereotyping of Indian poverty in World Cinema, a false representation: PART II

…Continued from PART-1


The Mira Nair 1988 film, Salaam Bombay portrays the city Bombay as a stunning paradox, which it really is, highlighting the particularities if that place and that time. Here in Bombay, the unforgiving city, people flow in somehow and are lost. Lost are their respective identities and their very existence. This film is built around real conversations, being this realistic without being another documentary. She gets in the trust established between the subjects herself, constructing her film around brothels and drug pushers. “In Nair’s visual narratives there is always a cultural specificity presented in a way that it becomes universal through the individual truths it unveils.” (Manjapra, 2016).


Nair’s Salaam Bombay is practical and cheap like most of her other films and is devoid of professional actors making them all look as particular as they are. An intense familiarity with the culture is felt. And the film deals with problems too. It says how the grown-ups are caged within ignorance and prejudices and from these arise the flow of poverty. Nair believes that educating the wide public eye isn’t as easy a job. She remembers how men would go watch her Indian Cabaret in masses for the sexual imagery they thought it would portray whereas the documentary was an “exploration of underlying hypocrisy of values towards the stereotyped woman face in India”. For Nair, the focus lies in the individuality of the characters, like in Salaam Bombay the character of Krishna, which is strikingly against the mainstream prescribed representations and images of the marginalized. Self-representations become crucial as each image will carry the ideology of the ambassador who will be the creator.

Its just then when her style of documentary filmmaking suffers when critics start calling her works such as Salaam Bombay as one from Hollywood. She instead wanted to amalgamate the realistic documented style with drama, gesture, and the controlled situation that’s present in drama, thereby creating a film that becomes a celebration of courage and resourcefulness of these street children of Bombay, not just escaping into some themes of sentimentality. “You have to be terribly local to be global/universal”, says Nair.

Today the world is largely connected with each other through mediums like YouTube. Therefore, we witness a rise in multicultural films. And, the existence of the Internet is crucial to their existence. The cinema which isn’t concerned much about the profits and will try finding its audience it those who actually struggle will eventually find its themes in their struggles and daily sufferings and what perpetuates there living. Here the audience sees its reality. And, the cinema would aim at expressing social and political commentary, at providing with the answers, often simultaneously being very passionate and satiric. It goes against the traditional practices of filmmaking and the eventual ‘consumption’, A constant reimagination is essential too. Particularly, in countries like India where the question of caste, class, and privilege are so openly laid. Here, cinema is a very dominant cultural institution. So, whenever there goes on transformations and changes around us, these films pursuing thoughtful treatment stay as the visual documentation of them for the time to come. It becomes important to understand the community, the audience, the opponents for which a work is being produced.


The main character in the film, the ten-year-old Krishna, in a scene with Irrfan, speaks,

“मैं आना चाहता हूं। पांच सौ रुपए जमा हो जाएं, मैं आजाएगा। मुझे यहां”चाय पाव” कहते है। कृष्णा कोई नहीं कहता। तू मेरी चिंता मत करना।”

After this, he is interrupted by the disinterested character played by Irrfan, who asks him to stop as writing more would cost more. Now when he asks the kid to tell his mother’s name and address, Krishna says,

“गांव विजयपुर।नदी के किनारे… कृष्णा की मा”।

As soon as Krishna leaves, his letter simultaneously is thrown off.

His being away from home provided him the sole purpose. He does not even carry an identity in Bombay. He just wants to earn those five hundred rupees which he owes to his brother. So, he has a story. He too is a fully human being whose displacement and loss of family should not be typically stereotyped like that of the thousand others. Krishna’s story doesn’t look like its plot, it just revolves around his randomness of existence. Mira Nair says that her agenda is to resist the cultural imperialism of Hollywood by putting people exactly like us on the screen. So as to deconstruct the stereotyped depictions of the non-white people.


But then with Salaam Bombay, the director Mira Nair is seen differently by different people. Some from the first world see her as a woman of color, an Indian who represented her people, whereas to some she remains a Non-Residential Indian, living with the international cultural elite, which is at times visible through her relations with the Indian state. This reminds of Spivak, who has talked about the native elites who while representing, shut the voices of the subaltern under their voices.

Also, an important question asked by the Nair film yet not answered was, What was to be done with these lives? Of these street children?

It’s been recorded in some daily interviews that most children working in these films have been now provided with better lifestyles like was much said after Slumdog Millionaire. There can be different ways of looking at it. One is seeing this as the greatest welfare old school charity by publicizing humanism of the filmmakers, of the producers and dismissing the whole problem of rooted child labor in India, rather than asking for fundamental changes in the social and economic structures.

Much of the film’s cast had gone back to their routine older life on the streets. The star of Salaam Bombay, Shafiq Sayed who played the character, Krishna, drives an autorickshaw somewhere in Bangalore to this day, who before the film worked as a ragpicker on the Grant Road Bridge.

“If the rich could hire others to die for them, we, the poor, would all make a nice living.” –Jewish Proverb



The Stereotyping of Indian poverty in World Cinema, a false representation: PART I


Works Cited:

Cardullo, Bert. 1989 “Boy’s Life”, The Hudson Review. 290-298.

Youtube (Film. Salaam Bombay) and Manjapra. ‘Between Two Worlds’, A conversation with Nair, 2016.