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Film / Salaam Bombay!

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Salaam Bombay! is a 1988 film from India directed by Mira Nair.

Krishna is a boy of 12 or so, homeless, living in the streets of Mumbai aka Bombay, with a little circle of friends that sleep in an alley. He is working as a delivery boy for a tea shop, toting a tray with single glasses of tea on it, making a meager few rupees a day from the tea shop owner, from which he gets docked if someone steals a glass of tea or someone breaks a glass.

Krishna is living in the Kamathipura district of Bombay, a notorious Wretched Hive filled with brothels, Streetwalkers, drug dealers and drug addicts. Among those drug addicts is Chillum, who is addicted to "brown" (heroin?) and also sells it on the streets for a drug dealer named Baba. Baba also happens to be a pimp, married to a thirty-ish prostitute named Rekha; they have a daughter named Manju who is a little younger than Krishna. If all that isn't depressing enough, a 16-year-old girl named Sola Saal has been forced against her will into a brothel in the neighborhood. She's a virgin and the creepy Miss Kitty of the brothel very much wants to sell off Sola Saal's virginity, but the girl has to be "tamed" first.

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Irrfan Khan, who would go on to be a major star in Bollywood cinema, made his film debut. He appears briefly as a professional scribe who writes a letter for illiterate Krishna.


Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Krishna's mother is The Ghost, never seen. But the whole reason that Krishna is on the streets in the first place is that after Krishna set fire to his bullying older brother's motorbike, his mom chucked him out of the house. He can't come back until he earns the 500 rupees necessary to replace the motorbike.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Krishna and all his friends wander around the streets barefoot, and just as an exclamation point one scene shows a naked toddler wandering around unattended.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Krishna and Manju are picked up by the cops for no obvious reason. They are then both held in a nightmarish youth hall that's basically a prison for children. Rekha tries to reclaim her daughter, only to be told that she's a prostitute so she can't have Manju back.
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  • Downer Ending: Hoo boy. Chillum overdoses on drugs and dies, but not before he stole all of Krishna's money. Sola Saal, who earlier tried to escape, is "tamed" by the tender attentions of Baba, willingly becomes a prostitute, and goes off to meet her first client. Manju apparently will be a prisoner of the Department of Child Disservices until she turns 18. The confrontation between Baba and Rekha at the end leads to Krishna killing Baba with a stab In the Back. And a religious procession for Ganesh causes Krishna and Rekha to be separated in the streets, leaving Krishna all alone, sobbing, with nowhere to go. The End.
  • Excited Show Title!: Salaam Bombay!. A very ironic use in this case as the cheerful title is for a movie about the grim despair and hopeless misery of Mumbai's slums.
  • Generation Xerox: Dialogue reveals that once upon a time, Baba promised to get Rekha out of sex work, but he reneged, and she's still a prostitute. Near the end, as Baba is charming Sola Saal into becoming a hooker, he promises that if she can earn some money and pay off the debt to her madam, he'll take her away from the life.
  • Groin Attack: Krishna incapacitates a larger boy who is bullying him inside the juvenile detention facility by kicking him in the nuts. However, just to make sure that the audience doesn't feel a little fleeting happiness, the older boy gets his revenge by flinging some hot stew in Krishna's face.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: For no obvious reason Baba is giving an interview to a white lady journalist. Chillum, who speaks English, is doing the translating while Baba speaks Hindi. The white lady is good-looking, and Baba, who is a pig, has to point that out.
    Baba: Tell her she's beautiful stuff.
    Chillum: Bastard! Think I would tell her that?
  • Hope Spot: The tea shop guy fires Krishna, but at the same time gives him 300 rupees back wages. It seems that Krishna now has the money to go home. Then he finds out that Chillum stole his bankroll to buy drugs.
  • Human Trafficking: Sola Saal, a 16-year-old girl, is forcibly dragged into a brothel in the Bombay slums.
  • Idiot Ball: Well, Krishna is still a boy, naive and trusting. But really, it was not a good idea to leave his entire bankroll in a hidden place in a wall, a place that the resident drug addict who is desperate for a fix knows about.
  • Miss Kitty: Gungu Bai, the older lady who runs the brothel where Sola Saal is imprisoned. She's quite vicious, threatening to cut Sola Saal up if Sola Saal keeps being reluctant.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: The creepiest possible manifestation of this trope. Gungu Bai the madam is auctioning off Sola Saal's virginity, as it seems some men are willing to pay top dollar for that. When getting Baba to charm Sola Saal into loosening up or at least resigning herself to sex work, the madam says that he is not to have sex with her.
  • Never Learned to Read: The scribe played by Irrfan Khan writes a letter for illiterate Krishna in which Krishna says he's saving money to come home. After Krishna leaves the scribe sneers with contempt, noting that Krishna didn't even know his home address and could only give vague directions to a village.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Krishna and Manju get thrown into an institution that is nominally supposed to be a home for homeless children, but clearly it's really a detention center for the unwanted. It's a nasty place, where the strong beat up the weak. One boy says that sometimes the authorities just forget about children and they languish there for years.
  • Red Light District: The Kamathipura district teems with prostitutes, brothels, drugs, crime.
  • Sexiled: It's gross when Rekha makes little Manju go out onto the balcony while Rekha screws men in their little apartment. It's even more gross when Rekha takes Manju with her on an outcall visit to a client, making her wait in the man's living room while Rekha and the man go into the bedroom.
  • Street Urchin: Krishna is just one of untold thousands of children on the streets of Bombay, sleeping in alleyways, living by their wits.
  • Third-Person Person: Baba, who has a pretty high opinion of himself despite being an awful person, has a habit of doing this. When he fires Chillum from his job as street dealer he says "You no longer work for Baba."
  • Title Drop: As Krishna and his little gang are robbing an elderly man, one of the other boys gets in the old man's face and says "Salaam to the king of Bombay!"
  • Wretched Hive: The Kamathipura district is filled with drug addicts and prostitutes and homeless children who sleep in filthy alleys. Apparently the only thing the police ever do about it is snatch random urchins and throw them into juvenile hall.note 
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