Oct 24, 2016
A tour of Mumbai’s Dharavi slum compounds clichés while shattering preconceptions.
A neo-Gothic marriage of spires, turrets and soaring arches, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) is arguably the most flamboyant landmark of British colonial rule in India. Formerly called Victoria Terminus, Mumbai’s main railway station is a hub of organised chaos, where millions of the city’s residents – and hundreds of confused tourists – hurry through each day.
A popular Bollywood shoot location, the station staged some of the most moving scenes in Danny Boyle’s multi-Oscar-winning flick, Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which was adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel, Q&A. Remember when Jamal Malik, the call-centre chai wallah (tea boy) played by Dev Patel, watches helplessly as his love interest, Latika (Freida Pinto), is abducted? That was filmed on the packed platforms, as was the climactic dance sequence when the two are reunited.
You can catch a (usually chock-a-block) train from CST to Mahim Junction, which is near Dharavi, the giant Mumbai slum where other key scenes from the movie play out. It’s best to sign up for a walking tour of Dharavi (realitytoursandtravel.com) to hear anecdotes about the film’s production and get an insight into life in this shantytown – a sensory-jolting enclave that’s home to an estimated one million people (and scores of cows, goats, cats, dogs and pesky flies).
While Dharavi compounds countless slum clichés – you’ll encounter dusty alleys, flimsy shacks, pungent streams and heart-rending poverty – a visit will also shatter many preconceptions. Autorickshaws, cars and motorbikes charge along concrete streets lined with high-rises, sturdy brick homes, Hindu temples and mosques. Commerce reigns supreme, with rupees exchanged at little shops and market stalls, and businesses trading in everything from recycled plastic and pappadums to leather tanning.
Although there’s an unmistakable air of industriousness, you’ll spot adults milling around and giggling children playing cricket using lumps of wood for bats. There are even a few ramshackle cinemas (Slumdog Millionaire apparently received mixed reviews from local critics). As you navigate Dharavi, the movie’s uplifting soundtrack is sure to run through your head – especially A. R. Rahman’s euphoric Jai Ho. ￼