When beginning a month long retrospective of Mira Nair, there probably isn't a better intro than the opening of Salaam Bombay!: A brightly colored circus, a stonefaced child left behind, a train ride to the bright streets of Bombay. Nair's films are eye-catching spectacles that find the beautiful in the mundane. But her playfulness is sharply contrasted with the real issues her films address. Salaam Bombay! is an observation of the secret world of the often-overlooked children living on Bombay's streets that balances bright visuals with social realism in order to paint a complex picture of Indian homeless youth.
Mira Nair's first feature follows a closeknit group of kids living between the cracks of Bombay city. The stonefaced boy at the beginning is Krishna (Shafiq Syed), who goes for an errand for the circus owner and comes back to discover that his temporary home with the circus has left without him. Krishna makes his way to Bombay, which is as colorful as the circus, but also more dangerous. Krishna eventually gets a job selling tea, and falls in with a group of urchins. He befriends a drunk, a prostitute, and her daughter. He's illiterate but street smart and is trying to save the unimaginable sum of 500 rupees to bring back to his mother - though he's not sure where he is. But don't mistake Krishna's story for a Dickensian tale of woe. Salaam Bombay! is not melodrama. Nair approaches her subject with empathy and curiosity, and gets the children to open up to her as well.