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This may be a cultural thing more than movie explanation but since the movie is about the experiences of a slum dog kid growing up I think it fits.

What were they supposed to be doing that would make someone choose their stall AND pay them for it?

Here is a still of the scene:

enter image description here

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Probably several things combined:

  • they keep it clean so it is more attractive then the outdoors solution
  • they give people using the stall a sense of security (=nobody will disturb them)
  • when its the only option around, people have no choice but to pay them, and they just take advantage of it
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I've added an image. It looks like all of the outhouses has a kid at them. An adult wouldn't have any reason to pay that I can see. The outhouse is there and if they wanted to use it the kids aren't big enough to stop them. – Kevin Howell Oct 10 '12 at 11:29
An adult would indeed have no problem just pushing them away. However, nothing is stopping the kids from showering the adult with a material of choice while he is in the outhouse without having paid. – Origin Oct 10 '12 at 13:28
I assumed the kids operate like the "squeegee bandits" who wash car windows without being asked. You don't have to pay them, but many people do pay to avoid being bothered or threatened. – Shiz Z. Oct 10 '12 at 14:21
@Origin I'm not really trying to come up with scenarios where the adult does this and then the kids retaliate. I assume that the kids provide a service because when the man can't use the outhouse he takes back his money. Which makes it seem like a service transaction to me rather than extortion. – Kevin Howell Oct 10 '12 at 16:43
@ShaneFinneran That could be it but in an environment like theirs I don't really see the average slumdog ( is that just for the kids or does it apply to adults?) paying a kid just so that they are bothered. It seems to be a business like anything else they show the brothers doing. – Kevin Howell Oct 10 '12 at 16:46

In this article proposing a possible alternative to Mumbai's lack of sanitation, it explains that without a sewage system, people have a choice of defecating in the open, in a government toilet if there is one available, or in a private pay-per-use toilet. Urination is free for men using urinals or nature. For women, urination is more problematic. They can squat in the open, or they can use the paid toilets which are really designed for defecation.

Salim's job in the film was to operate a pay-toilet.

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Here's some possible background on the situation you see:

In Mumbai, a Campaign Against Restroom Injustice

It seems unlikely that men use these toilets very often anyhow. But then it also seems unlikely that children would be guarding them rather than grown men. And they probably don't get cleaned very often. Has anyone read the book Q&A that the movie is based on?

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What a sad article. – MJ6 Oct 13 '12 at 18:16

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