YEH HAI MUMBAI
Setting: it's late in the evening, the camera opens up at the Colaba slums, near the railway tracks. There’s a line of women defecating on it. Somewhere in the background an old radio is playing "ai dil.. jeena kahan, zarah hut Kay.. zara bach kay... Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan."
There is a man crouched and hiding in the bushes and watching women defecating on the railway tracks, it's dark, he seems to be too busy to notice the sound of an approaching train. The song continues to play absentmindedly in the background as suddenly he is blinded by the light of the incoming collision. There is the sound of something being hit, the high pitched wailing of the train, camera pans out before too much detail is revealed and you see the non curious almost matter of fact faces of the defecating women- this isn't new to them. The song is playing "zarah hut kay..zarah bach kay.." Screen goes blank.
Roll credits on black screen, song fades out.
The screen becomes white and sort of fuzzy, as if it were the eyes of the person who has only just woken up. In the background there is the sound of two people- man and woman fighting.
Man: "you're mad is what you are, how do I know where the maid is and why she hasn't come into work, maybe she got tired of your nonsense, I know I am"
Woman: " You’re a liar! After all these years you think I don’t know you and your habits? Can't keep it in your pants long enough to zip them up! She hasn't been coming for a few days now, I know it’s got something to do with you!! couldn't you at least leave the maid alone, bastard!"
A mobile phone rings with a decidedly western ring tone. You see the hand picking it up and the boy who has just woken up speaks in,
Boy: "Yo wazzaaap, nah just about surfacing now actually"
he laughs as he listens to the person on the other end.
Boy: "yeah man wicked night, I don't know if I can do a repeat- no energy or money I think,"
again he's quiet as he listens to the other side of e conversation.
Boy: "yeah dude, maxed out my dads card yesterday buying champagne, had to yaar, there was Sonal Kapoor standing next to me, had to show her what's what right?"
More silence and laughter as he listens to the boy on the other end.
Boy: "yea maybe I could do a movie but a Bollywood movie bro? seriously?”
There is silence as the voice on the other end makes its point
Boy: “ok, ok, damn! alright, meet you there in an hour, laterz bro!"
Boy gets up off the bed, the room is filled with gadgets, it's large and with obviously expensive furniture over which clothes and other mess are strewn around. The man and woman are still fighting in the background.
Man: “I wouldn’t touch the maid, why would you even go there?”
Woman: “Please! I know men okay! The lower you have to go for your pleasures, the better you feel about it… just tell me alright!”
Man: “You’re a crazy person! I did not screw around with the maid! How should I know, maybe she ran away with those boys who used to come visit her!”
Woman: “Boys? How would you know huh? You’ve been watching the maid very closely..”
The boy rummages around for his jeans and upon finding them, digs deep for his wallet. It's empty. He makes an uncertain and unpleasant face and sneaks down the hall of apartment into his parents’ room. The apartment is also obviously expensive and well decorated.
He checks to make sure the parents are still fighting and then with a practiced stealth takes out a wad of cash from the wallet lying on the dresser.
Cut scene and the boy is standing in front of a movie theatre in Colaba with a group of friends- boys and girls - all of them expensively dressed and holding the latest cell phones etc.
Boy 2: "damn dude you look scruffy"
Boy: "man shut up, this is the worst idea, just look at this line, it's a huge line, we'll be here for another hour or so at least!"
Girl "I know right and why this hall..." she looks around the area with a crinkled nose, "why can't be go watch X-Men or something in the IMAX,"
Boy: "yea dude I hate waiting in line, this is going to be ages..."
Boy 2 (checking out boy from head to toe, noting his scruffy attire and grinning with not uncertain malice: "so mom finally fired the maid eh? Too bad, she was cute,"
Girl (screws her face into a disgusted expression):"ew gross you're looking at maids now, how desperate are you… I mean she’s the maid man she probably smells!"
Camera pans out towards the colaba slum area- following the back alleys in fast motion and then slows down till we see in the frame, the running legs of young boys. There is the air of great excitement and a huge smile on the little boys faces as they’re running.
[note to self: the dialogue for the slum kids is written in English and MUST be translated into Hindi later- with a mind to the slang they use]
Slum Kid 1: “Arrey Amar!”
The camera moves to show a young boy, about seventeen years old, standing by a water pipe which is gurgling out water in spurts. In front of the pipe, there is a line of some fifty women, some children sitting in a daze or crying and pulling at their mothers. The women look tired, they are all holding one haanda each. In the background there is conversation about where to find work. The women are speaking about the new constructions in Bombay- flyover, sealink, roads etc that they are helping build. The woman right in front fills her haanda and then says to the women behind her,
Slum woman 1: “Try and keep my place okay, I’m going to go put this back home and i’ll come back for the second haanda. Won’t be longer than half an hour for me to get home, but please try...”
The other woman looks at her in irritation.
Slum woman 2: “What do I look like your servant? I spent all day working on the flyover and now you want me to wait for you too? No, ask someone who has the time to care, I don’t, I have my own problems,”
She indicates towards a crying, half naked baby sitting by himself towards the side. The baby is sitting on a pile of trash; playing with a bunch of empty Coke cans and covered in mud.
Amar: “Both of you just shut up now, everyone has to wait in line for themselves, those are the rules don’t you know? Now hurry up Kalavati, or else I won’t even let you buy the water, you hear me?”
Both women immediately see, afraid and exchange quick looks. Kalavati fills her handa and goes away, three little kids following her down the alleyway.
The Slum kids gather around Amar and thwap his back
Slum kid 1: “You showed her whose boss huh? Naikbhai will be so proud!”
Amar: (laughs) “We will see we will see, now then, what do you kids want?”
Slum kid 2: “You promised we would go watch Rang de Basanti today, remember? we are ready! , lets go lets go, you promised we would go to see the Rang de Basanti, lets go, lets go, the last show starts in an hour..””
Amar laughs again, he is a confident, almost cocky looking kid. “I did didn’t I? I have some work here though, can’t just leave can i? can’t you see?”
An old woman wearing a tattered suit is walking around the water pipes, she’s mumbling something to the people standing in line and while most of them speak to her normally, she catches Amar’s attention and he pushes some of his friends aside in order to go over to her.
Amar (while watching the old woman speaking to another woman towards the middle of the line) “Just watch the pipe for me, just one minute ok...”
Old woman (speaking to the people in line): “Have you seen my daughter anywhere, Padma, you know her right? Of course you do, she grew up here only, she went to get water two days ago and hasn’t come back since...”
The people in line are exchanging looks but no one offers any explanation or answers to the old woman.
Amar: “Oi, old woman, why are you irritating these good people when they’re trying to go about their day eh? What do you want?”
Old woman: “Amar beta, you know me, you know Padma, Padma is missing, please help me, she came to get water here a few days ago, hasn’t been back home since...”
The woman breaks down into tears, her wailing is mostly ignored by the people passing by. Amar begins to look uncomfortable and then his face hardens.
Amar: “Yea I know Padma, but it seems to me old woman, that you don’t know your own daughter! everyone here knows she probably ran away to be kept by that rich boss of hers... check under your mattress, maybe she left you pity money!”
The old woman is stunned into silence for a moment, the people standing around look at each other but no one says anything; the slum kids are laughing in the back.
Old woman: “Shut up shut up, why are you spreading these lies about Padma, she isn’t even here to defend herself, my poor child, my poor hardworking good little girl, Why are you saying these untruths about her?”
Amar: “Yeah, I know her, we all know her! why even Ramu here knows her better than you know her apparently, go away old woman before you get hurt or hear something you don’t want to. Just go, come on,”
and with that he herds her away even as she continues to protest. In the meantime, taking advantage of Amar’s distraction, some women are beginning to cut the line for the water tap. As he’s shuttling the old woman away, a fight breaks loose. The other slum kids start wailing, Amar’s friends are laughing. Amar runs back when he realises what is happening and breaks the fight apart.
Amar: (holding two women away from each other) “Stop this right this minute, fighting amongst yourself! GOD! neither of you can get water today, go on, get out of here!!”
Woman 1: “Arrey she’s the one who cut the line, how is this my fault, why are you penalising me Amar? You know my daughter is sick, I need water, her temperature is rising, she’s burning up, she needs water!”
Amar: “You should have thought of that before getting into this fight. If your daughter is sick, tell a doctor, don’t tell me, I’m not your uncle or even the dada of this area.. now go on get out the two of you”
Woman 1: “Arrey how hospital? I took her to the free government hospital, you know how they are! all the beds are taken! they have no time to see her and no room either and whose going to give me money for a doctor?”
Amar: “Well now you can’t get any water, so you’re saving that money, go on, go use it for the hospital”
He snatches the woman’s haanda from her hands and pours out the water on the ground. The women in line watch the wasted water with envy, tiredness and quiet distress.
A group of foreigners led by an Indian man are walking about, they are on tour, are taking pictures of everything; with flash. The people look uncomfortable at first but then soon, kids start running around the foreigners and posing for pictures.
Indian Tour guide (In English): “and this is Colaba slums, these came up during the 1970s, during a wave of migration into Bombay, people came from villages to find work...but the government didn’t construct housing at the time; some say to control this same migration. As you can see, it didn’t work. Now these people are largely ignored by the government, though the slums have seen over 40 demolitions, mostly without notice to any of the residents living there,”
One white guy goes closer to the tap where the women are queued up and Amar and his friends are standing watching the tour. He has a large bottle of mineral water in the side pocket of his backpack. One small child comes and lifts the bottle slowly. The foreigner shouts, the child runs but is caught by the Indian tour guide.
Indian tour guide (holding the boy from his arm as he struggles): “Oi boy, what do you think you’re doing,”
He grabs the water bottle out of the child’s hand and gives it back to the foreigner who has a guilty look on his face.
Foreigner: “Never mind, let him have it...”
Seeing what’s going on, Amar and his friends move closer to the tour group, they look a bit angry but before anyone can do anything, a big beefy looking guy walks into the frame.
Big Guy: “Oi Amar, Naikbhai wants to see you, you have the count for today? He’s in a mood, so I hope you managed to make some decent money!”
Amar looks worried; he purses his lips into a single line and nods in a serious manner. Turning towards his slum kid friends he says: “Ok listen you guys go on to the movie theatre, I’ll come in a bit.”
He takes out a hundred or so from the pockets of his shorts and hands it to one kid.
Amar: “Get my ticket also, I’ll be right behind you.”
The kids cheer and disperse towards the theatre.
Amar: “Acha ok Bhagwati, watch these people for me will you?”
The beefy guy nods and stands by the water pipe now and Amar makes his way towards Naikbhai’s offices.
Naikbhai’s “office” is a small room with a brown door with a giant lock on it. In front of which stands a wooden desk and a chair on which sits Naikbhai. He’s surrounded by goons and a large Rotweiler is lying on the floor sleeping. There is a single exposed bulb hanging from the ceiling, there’s more shadows than light in the room. He is smoking a Marlboro with one hand and is petting the dog with the other hand.
Amar: “Yes Naikbhai, you asked for me?”
Naikbhai: “Did I ask for you, did i? Yes, I think I did;”
He stubs his cigarette out on the desk with a controlled violence. Amar looks nervous and shifts his weight between his legs.
Naikbhai: “How much did I make today? Tell me, give me the cash,”
Amar nods and hastily hands a wad of cash to Naikbhai who then counts the amount, holding each note deliberately. The notes are small, (5 rupees, 10 rupees) tattered and dirty. He laughs as he counts.
Naikbhai: “See this, the cleanest bloody money in India... you know why?”
Amar shakes his head, he’s looking at the floor and standing at heel.
Naikbhai: “It’s the money of hard working people, manual laborers, the people who build this city you know, I mean really build it, from ground up. Or at least it used to be their money... Now it’s mine!”
He cracks up laughing and Amar joins in hesitantly. Then Naikbhai gets silent, he’s giving Amar a suspicious look. He gets up from behind the desk and walks over to Amar. Standing over the boy in an intimidating manner.
Naikbhai: “The count is correct isn’t it? You know what happens to people who try to jip me..”
Amar swallows nervously. “Yes Bhai, of course, you know I wouldn’t ever do that, me jip you, how can that happen? I would never. Count again if you like.”
Again Naikbhai laughs, a booming laughter and smacks Amar hard on the back; as if in jest.
Naikbhai: “Arrey Amar, I was just joking yaar, joking you know? jokes?”
Then he gets a serious look on his face again and walks back to the desk and towards the door behind it. He opens the door while saying,
Naikbhai: “but just to be certain, let me show you what happens to people who piss me off...”
The door opens to reveal a dimly lit closet-room with a single bed in it. On the side is a bucket on which hover flies and mosquitoes. There is a small water bottle by the side of the bed. On the bed, tied and gagged lies a naked and bruised body of a young woman with terrified eyes and a face streaked with blood and tears. She sees Amar and there is a look of recognition that passes between them, She tries to speak and struggle, but she’s obviously hurt and weak. Naikbhai laughs and shuts the door. Amar looks visibly shaken.
Naikbhai: “She deserves it, thought she was too good for you didn’t she?!”
Amar simply nods, he starts looking at the exit door nervously and continues to shift his weight between his legs.
Naikbhai: “Chalo, see you tomorrow,”
He ruffles Amar’s hair in a gesture of affection and Amar looking grateful to be let go, runs out into the alley and throws up a few feet away, behind a dumpster, so as not to be seen, behind Naikbhai’s house. He then cleans his mouth with his hand and shrugs and starts to walk away from the house and presumably towards the movie theatre.
Cut back to the movie theatre and waiting there in line are the Rich boys & Girls, while a few places behind them Amar’s slum kid friends are also standing; being excited and rowdy. The Rich boys and girls are watching them with both discomfort and a kind of irritation. The girls move closer towards the boys they are with.
Girl: “That’s it, I’ll have to sit with them, ugh, I bet they smell, told you we should have gone to IMAX.”
Just then Amar comes up and joins his friends in the line. He is quiet and looks disturbed. His friends are however boisterous and start pushing him around. The Rich Boy is watching the group of slum kids curiously.
Boy: “You know I think that that guy has come to my house before...” nodding towards Amar.
Boy 2 (sarcastically) : “Oh you’re friends?”
The Boy gives Boy 2 a disgusted look and snorts as if that were a preposterous idea.
Boy: “Don’t be ridiculous dude, I mean I think he came to see my maid once or twice... I wonder if he knows where she is....”
Boy 2: “Aw, the baby is missing his maid servant, why don’t you go ask him about her, she may be missing you too...!”
Boy gives Boy 2 a shove, not rough just enough to make him stumble back a bit.
Boy: “Missing the maid! Ha as if! You’re an asshole dude...”
Cut to a shot of a small hut, there is blue plastic for its roof and no door so one can see inside clearly.
Sitting inside is the old woman from before. Her eyes are closed and she is praying silently. In front of her is a tattered picture in an old silver picture frame, it’s sitting in the squalor of dirt with a string of fresh and bright orange marigolds adorning it. The picture is of the girl that Amar saw in Naikbhai’s house. In the picture though, she is smiling and looks faraway but happy.