By Gurmukh Singh
TORONTO: While selecting Mumbai’s King (Mumbai Cha Raja) for the Toronto International Film Festival’s city-to-city programme this year, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey wrote, “It’s an undeniable fact: as successful and accomplished as Slumdog Millionaire was, many of Mumbai’s filmmakers can’t stand it. It fixed an image of the city’s poverty so firmly in the public’s mind that it’s become hard to see Mumbai’s millions of strivers any other way. Mumbai’s King might change that.’’
And Manjeet Singh’s debut film does change that perception to some extent. It was one of the top three or four films screened at the festival this year.
Mumbai’s King is the story of two slum boys – rather three – who, despite their poverty and family violence, find escape routes to enjoy life to the hilt.
As the film’s sweeping cinematography shows, these boys’ world of slums and poverty stands in stark contrast to Mumbai skyscrapers.
To observe such human stories amid the grim reality of India, you need to have a very sensitive mind and a keen sense of observation. Just like Newton. Everybody saw the apple falling, but Newton found something behind that fall – gravity. Similarly, there are tons of stories similar to the one told in Mumbai’s King. But it takes a Manjeet to observe it and bring it to audiences in the form of a colourful, sensitive film.
Young Rahul (played by Rahul Bairagi) doesn’t have a happy family life as his alcoholic father pops up once in a while and beats up him and his mother. The poor boy escapes this grim reality in the company of his balloon seller friend Arbaaz (played by Arbaaz Khan) and big-talker Salman (played by Salman Khan). They just wander aimlessly in search of some thrill, play pranks, steal potatoes from a vegetable vendor, enjoy Ganpati celebrations and chase their neighbourhood girl Saloni.
The film climaxes with the three friends joining hands to thrash Rahul’s alcoholic and abusive father.
“These are real-life characters from my neighbourhood. I know Rahul and his family. His father is a drunkard who doesn’t care about his family – wife and two sons. The poor wife told me her story. This kid (Rahul) will run away when his father showed up at home, and won’t return for days. Arbaaz’s family is also very poor as he has many family members,’‘ Manjeet told News East-West at the premiere of the film.
A modest person, Mumbai-based Manjeet Singh doesn’t want Mumbai’s King to be mentioned in the same breath as Slumdog Millionaire. “Well, Slumdog is such a great film. Also, mine is of a very different genre,” he shrugged.
Manjeet Singh, who holds a masters in mechanical engineering from the US and chucked that career to pursue film-making, said he has been working on the film since 2009.
“I had done some film work on kids begging on Mumbai trains, and then I was watching these kids in my neighbourhood. So I wove their grim reality into Ganpati celebrations to tell their story,’’ he said.
How was he planning to release the film? “I am looking at all options. You need tons of money to promote a film.’’
Why did he quit engineering? “I was a bad engineer, and I love film-making and ideas,’’ said Manjeet Singh who has also directed two short films Belapur Future Club (2009) and Dhaba (2009).
Mumbai’s King is a wonderful film.