Friday, March 6, 2009

"Slumdog Star"

Slumdog Millionaire

Glitz all over for Slumdog stars

A night at the Oscars, but now it's back to life of squalor
By Gethin Chamberlain, 01/03/2009

THEY are the same small children wearing the same smart outfits they donned for the Oscars just last Sunday.

Slumdog Millionaire
HOME TO A STAR: Rubina shares food in her family’s tiny shack

But just one week later, little Slumdog stars Azharuddin Ismail and Rubina Ali are a world away from the Hollywood glitz—back in the filth of the shanty town they know as home.

This evening, instead of chatting with Angelina Jolie, they’ll be jumping over the open sewers that run through their streets to get water from the communal tap that serves hundreds of families in the slum Bandra suburb of Mumbai.

Tonight they’ll be sleeping not in the crisp white sheets of a hotel bed but curled up on grubby bamboo mats on a dirt floor—pressed against their relatives.

And they are already seeing the only home they’ve ever known with fresh eyes. “I don’t like it as much here now,” says Rubina, 9. “The people are not as nice as in America.”

But to recall the faraway land they captivated with their cheeky, red-carpet antics, the young stars only need to look down at their shiny, expensive clothes — now crumpled and splattered with mud.

Slumdog Millionaire
PARTY’S OVER: But Rubina still wears dress

Azharuddin—the 10-year-old who played little Salim, the lead character’s brother—also has a bright-red Nintendo DS, a gift from film director Danny Boyle.

But he won’t be able to recharge it when the battery runs out as there is no electricity in the shack where he lives with his parents.

Their home measures just 4ft by 8ft. Its walls are blue and yellow plastic sheets draped over a fence and propped up by wooden posts. It has no toilet—and outside dogs, chickens and rats run around in human and animal waste.

Three hundred yards away, over the railway line, is the hut where Rubina lives. The movie’s young Latika is a bit better off than Azharuddin—her 12ft by 8ft shack is made of corrugated iron painted pink, and has electricity, a TV, DVD player, fridge and mattress.


But the home she shares with eight relatives is in a dank, dark alleyway that opens on to rubbish-strewn wasteland. One foot from their door is a stinking open drain brimming with sewage.

Slumdog Millionaire
OSCARS: With 'Uncle' Danny Boyle

Not surprisingly, both youngsters can’t quite believe that a week ago they were in Los Angeles in the midst of the glitz and glitter of Oscar night, when their film won an incredible eight gongs.

Azharuddin—still in his treasured tuxedo—giggles: “I met all these actors and actresses but I had no idea who they were. Angelina Jolie asked for my autograph and treated me like a big star. I had no idea who she was—I had to ask somebody afterwards. It was the most memorable night of my life. I will never, ever forget it. It was like living in a dream.”

For Rubina, the highlight was her new pale blue dress, which she is still wearing. She says: “When we got to America, Uncle Danny (Boyle)) arranged for some clothes for us. I had never been given so many clothes. I picked out seven dresses and four pairs of shoes. I felt so special in my party dress that I never want to take it off. I felt like a princess walking down the red carpet.”

One of the biggest shocks for the young pair was having their own hotel rooms. Rubina explains: “I had never slept in a proper bed alone before. It was nice, I guess. Me and Azharurddin loved jumping on it, we broke it because we played so hard. We had a room each but I went to sleep in his room. His mother was there too. I’ve never slept in a room on my own and I was scared—it felt better to be with people.”

Now back in India, Rubina is struggling to readjust to her old life. Her uncle Mohid Din Khan—who chaperoned her on the trip—says: “She didn’t want to come back but we have all tried to convince her it is OK.”

Rubina chips in: “I loved Los Angeles, it is less busy than Mumbai. You can have fun but also get some peace and quiet.”

Azharuddin, who was reportedly beaten outside his home by his dad Mohammed on Friday, fell in love with the States so much he wants to live there when he is older.


The trip was the first time he’d been in a plane and he proudly tells us: “I wasn’t scared. My ears got blocked and I was a bit worried but it was OK. I loved Hollywood, the food was amazing.

“When I’m older I’m going to get a flat and live there.

“I ate pizza—that is now my favourite ever food. I had Chinese food, hot dogs and ice cream. It was lovely but I wish they had biryani too.”

Despite returning to the slums, the children’s lives have improved since they were spotted in Bandra by Slumdog’s casting director.

Slumdog Millionaire
KIDS’ PLAY: Rubina & Azharuddin (centre) in ‘copter.

They were enrolled at an English language school after work on the film—starring Dev Patel and Freida Pinto—finished last June.

Boyle sends them £20 each month to pay for rickshaws to take them to and from classes, vital because they don’t have much left from their film wages.

Rubina’s £480 went on treatment for her dad’s broken leg, and a mobile phone for herself. Azharuddin’s £1,725 mostly went on treatment for his father’s tuberculosis.

But a £35,000 trust fund has been set up for the children to split when they are 18. And the local authority has promised their families new homes.

Rubina’s brother Hussein, 15, told us: “We want to move out of this place where there are bad people who abuse us. This is not a good area. We have electricity but we have to fight for water. There is a tap where we go to get it and people fight each other.”

But for now all Rubina and Azharuddin can think about is the incredible few months they have had. Azharuddin says: “From the first day we started filming it has been truly amazing. When Uncle Danny wanted to do pictures of our area he let us go up with him in a helicopter. At first I was scared but it was so exciting and so funny. I waved at my family but I don’t know if they saw me.

“The whole experience was like a different world, we had a brilliant time and at the end of it we had a big party.

“I hope that when I grow up I can be an actor again. I would love to have a life just like that every single day.”

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