A Minute With: Mira Nair on Salaam Bombay

(Reuters) – Twenty-five years after “Salaam Bombay” catapulted her to global stardom, film-maker Mira Nair’s debut feature has been re-released in Indian cinemas.

The 1988 film put the spotlight on the street children of Mumbai years before Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire”.

“Salaam Bombay” won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes film festival that year and was also nominated for an Oscar.
Nair, 55, spoke to Reuters about her memories of making the film and why “Salaam Bombay” still opens doors for her.
Q: What are your memories of “Salaam Bombay”?

A: “I remember so many things about that film, but most of all that it was a life-and-death movie. It was almost impossible to make, we had no money. We would shoot all day and for every shot, we would have at least a thousand people watching the shoot. I would come home tired, to an empty flat which belonged to my relative at Pedder Road, which I shared with Raghubir (Yadav) and several other cast and crew members who didn’t have a place to go at night. It was like a railway station. But after that I would be up all night, on the phone with financers and producers trying to raise money, sometimes for the next day of shooting.”

Q: What made you want to make such a difficult film?

A: “The biggest conviction stemmed from the life of these children. Their attitude was about grabbing life and enjoying and that impresses me and inspires me even now. They want to have a full life and there is no self-pity. There is only a determination to live life to the fullest. ‘Salaam Bombay’ didn’t put a halo on the poor. Instead, it said that they will teach us how to live.”
Q: How did “Salaam Bombay” change things for you?

A: “Oh, it put me on the map. It was a phenomenon in so many countries. Satyajit Ray held me to his heart and said ‘I cannot recall any film that has moved me more’. It was because of ‘Salaam Bombay’ that Denzel Washington said yes to me in a minute (for ‘Mississippi Masala’). This is a film that keeps opening doors for me, even today, in the most unusual way. It is beyond words — so many people you don’t even know who have been affected by this film.”
Q: Have you changed as a film-maker since then?

A: “I don’t know if I have. I am still attracted to stories about people who are considered to be on the outside of society. I still seek inspiration from those stories.”

Q: Do you still want to make “Shantaram”?
A: “I would love to make ‘Shantaram’ but the question is whether Johnny Depp wants to make it or not. I am ready to make that film.”
Q: Tell us a bit about “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”?
A: “That is another ‘dil ka tukda’ (piece of my heart). A powerful coming-of-age film that speaks of freedom. In a sense it is a dialogue with America, but at the same time it is also a deeply humane and personal story.”
Q: In keeping with your theme, isn’t that also about an outsider?
A: “Yes, it is — it is about an outsider who wants to become an insider but realizes that he will never be that. It also provides the counter-view, an American who lives in America. It is a question I have always asked myself, can a settler become a native? In a sense it is about what is going in the world today and the myopia with which we look at each other these days.”
Q: You are an Indian now settled abroad. Do you feel like a native in Uganda?
A: “I was never a settler I think. I don’t see myself as one. I have lived on three continents. But I have always felt a great sense of rootedness right here, in Delhi.”

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