Hey, remember Slumdog Millionaire? The movie with Anil Kapoor? Well, this isn’t that. It does have Anil Kapoor, though.
Dagnabbit, Amazon. Well, it’s on Einthusan.
Approximately 116 minutes…though Einthusan has it as 112 minutes.
A group of gun-toting thugs stand on top of a building overlooking the great slum of Bombay. Their boss gives the order to burn it down. But wait. Here comes our hero.
He shoots several of them, and then berates the boss for having forced him out of his home and into a life of crime. Our hero shoots the boss and the remaining thugs do nothing. And the title cards burst on the screen. Anil Kapoor is the King of the City. And it also stars Madhuri Dixit as OH SHIT! SOMEONE JUST SET FIRE TO THE SCREEN! Real life thugs burst out and start attacking the moviegoers with pipes and swords as the movie still plays against the wall. Bye bye, Anil Kapoor.
And then…uh…a camel gets shot.
Okay, actual start of movie.
Seventeen years ago, Rajkaran left his village in Unnav to come to Bombay and ended up in Dharavi. He got a job washing taxis, married Kumud, fathered a son, and eventually bought a taxi. And now he is starting his own business in a cloth factory with three associates. Well, sort of. The present owner, Razak, has promised them the building, but only Rajkaran has paid his share. Rajkaran’s partners claim that they will pay their shares, but who knows when.
At a…uh…bar…Rajkaran berates them for not coughing up their share, not mentioning that some of his share of the payment came from Kumud’s wages working in a garment factory. Pareshan, a man who works for the local slumlord brothers, tells Rajkaran to talk to his bosses for money, since they are all from the same village. Rajkaran refuses, saying that he can walk alone…even though he was just yelling at his partners for not coming through with their share of the payment. Then they continue to get drunk…and more drunk. And then they pass out. As Rajkaran sleeps, he dreams about regaling a smitten Madhuri Dixit with a tale of his heroic efforts to build the factory.
Rajkaran’s mother is coming from the village to stay with them. He has barely brought her home when Chaskar, Kumud’s brother bursts in, having gotten in trouble with some of the Brothers’ thugs again and trying to hide from them. After Kumud assures her brother that he is safe, Rajkaran has a talk with him outside, continuing their ongoing argument over what Rajkaran sees as his pointless, dangerous, and unlucrative occupation as a social worker that merely antagonizes the slumlords.
On the first night that his mother is staying with them, Rajkaran drives around Bombay drunk. Kumud, of course, is furious, so he goes back to the taxi to sleep. His mother comes out to see what is wrong with him, but he assures her that everything is fine.
Well, everything is not fine. Chaskar finds that one of his friends has been murdered. Chaskar believes that he was killed for speaking up against the Brothers and vows to fight on, but Rajkaran tells his business partners that Chaskar is a fool like his dead friend was. Well, two of his partners. They find the fourth partner only to learn that he has not only decided to not pay his share, but has hired some random toughs to protect him from Rajkaran and the others.
Rajkaran goes to an already impatient Razak to beg for more time, explaining that one of his partners ditched him, but that he has payment from two of the partners and that he will get the final quarter in a week. Razak has no sympathy for his plight, saying that he has another offer that is 25% more than what Rajkaran and his partners had offered, with the cash in hand. Razak gives them two days to pay up. So Rajkaran goes home and yells at Kumud. Kumud takes this all in stride, as if it is just another one of their fights.
Pareshan finds Rajkaran at the bar drinking alone. Pareshan reminds him of his hospitality when Rajkaran first arrived in Dharavi, saying that those other friends are useless. He says that Rajkaran can rely only on people from his own village…by which he means the Brothers.
Later that night, Rajkaran is driving a man through the town when he notices that the man has a bunch of cash in his suitcase. So…he…uh…pulls over the car at some random street corner and yells at the man to get out.
The next day, he goes with Pareshan to see the Brothers. They make him smack a man whom their thugs were beating up and then tell him to reign in Chaskar. And, with that, they get the factory. And he is happier than he has been in a long time. Of course, Rajkaran has promised to pay back the loan, somehow believing that it would be that simple.
Dharavi has had a bit of a reputation, even today. This video was posted only a few weeks ago, long after I had put this movie on my WTF ASIA schedule.
The slum in Slumdog Millionaire (which also has Anil Kapoor in a larger role) was assumed to be Dharavi. And Dharavi has been featured in other movies, presumably like the one shown at the start of this movie. On the one hand, the fire and the assault seems to show that the people who run the slums do not want the people watching a movie of a hero taking on the slum’s gangsters. On the other hand, burning the film seems to imply that this movie considers itself apart from them. There is dignity and honor in this society, sure. But these are just people trying to live their lives in tiny houses built upon mud-soaked ground littered with trash and with no official water supply.
If this were a more…mainstream movie about Dharavi, then maybe the movie would have focused more on a character like Chaskar, the man fighting for justice and equality. Of course, this movie shows him to be rather isolated, with little substantial support from the populace. Even his sister seems rather cynical about his quest to bring in a municipal water system to Dharavi so that they don’t have to rely on the slumlords selling them water from a hole in a pipe. Alternately, the movie could have had a noble criminal, like Anil Kapoor’s King of the City. Instead, we have Rajkaran.
Rajkaran’s character is established pretty early on. When Kumud tells him that she was looking after a friend of hers who got hurt, he responds by saying that he has no time for useless people. He even tells some passengers who are upset at the government that self-reliance and hard work is the path to success. While Chaskar is trying to better the slums and Kumud is trying to make the best of how things are, Rajkaran is looking to better his own station. It is implied that his wife and brother-in-law grew up in Dharavi, but Rajkaran, who is from a village, sees it as merely a waystation in his upward climb. Rajkaran has little patience for other people’s problems, even when it comes to violence or oppression. However, he is not all business either. He spends his time and money going to movies, getting drunk, and sometimes driving around Bombay on his own. Drunk.
Rajkaran also has a massive ego and a need to control his own narrative. This is made most explicit in his dreams where he retells the day’s events to Madhuri Dixit as if he were some bigshot badass (sidenote: these dream sequences could have been easy opportunities for musical numbers, but the movie largely avoids that). It is only his pride that initially prevents him from accepting aid from the Brothers, not any moral opposition to their actions. And even after he accepts their aid, he treats the situation as a temporary business arrangement among equals as opposed to him allowing himself to be made beholden to a pair of utter scumbags. While Rajkaran may have a point about his brother-in-law being naïve, the movie seems to say that his life philosophy of self-reliance is fundamentally flawed and selfish, that any philosophy is only as strong as the flaws of its adherents. And that continuing to claim it after it has been severely compromised may come across as extremely hypocritical and even dangerous. Every time it seems like his situation is getting out of his control, he lashes out. At his business partners, at his passengers, at his wife, even at the Brothers. As his life spirals out of control, so does his behavior.
The movie (mercifully?) takes a few tangents away from the plight of Rajkaran. There are scenes of Kumud trying to get water from the water pipe and clashing with the thugs because she does not want to pay for two buckets-worth of water. There is also a subplot regarding the return of her ex-husband. There is a little bit of Rajkaran’s mother trying to get used to the slums. There is a neighbor whose husband locks her in their house when he leaves, and gets no sympathy from other people who think that she will try to sleep around. And then there is a group of wayward boys who are…just jerks. Dharavi is a place full of stories.
So…this is not a barrel of fun times, but I enjoyed it, and maybe you will too.
WTF ASIA 36: One Million Yen Girl (Japan: 2008, Approx. 121 minutes).
WTF ASIA 37: Forever the Moment (South Korea: 2008, Approx. 125 minutes).
Free on Netflix.