Slumdog Millionaire child stars will attend Oscars, still live in slums

Child star Azhar points out his family’s ‘house’ under a plastic sheet to a BBC reporter. Watch this shocking BBC News segment on YouTube.

The child stars of Oscar favorite Slumdog Millionaire have been invited to attend the Academy Awards in Hollywood this Sunday. 10 year-old Azharuddin Ismail and 9 year-old Rubina Ali still live in tiny shacks with their families in the slums of Mumbai. Slumdog director Danny Boyle has been criticized for only paying the children less than $3,000 each for their parts in the film, which has grossed over $151 million worldwide. Boyle counters that each child is now being sent to school at the film’s expense and that a trust is being set up for them which will allow their families to purchase homes once they finish school at the age of 18. Many, including Kaiser, liken that to modern day colonialism and say that it may be too late for their families to live dignified lives by that time. Little Azhar’s dad suffers from tuberculosis and is likely to pass if he continues to live almost in the open for those eight long years.

Boyle is likely trying to counter the controversy by inviting all of the 9 child stars of the film to the Oscars, but will he do the right thing for their families afterwards or just send them back to live in the slums until they finish school? They would have lived that way anyway, right?

Azhar’s dad, who has tuberculosis

MUMBAI, India — In the slums where they live, goats pick over piles of trash and men kneel in the street to pray. But the young stars of “Slumdog Millionaire” were cruising Mumbai in an air-conditioned Toyota Friday, doing last-minute shopping and getting advice on the unimaginable: air travel.

The slumdog kids had just got the good news _ they were going to the Oscars.

“I feel very very very very very very good,” 10-year-old Azharuddin Ismail said, sitting across from his home, a scruffy lean-to of tarps and blankets.

He’d never been on plane. He’d never traveled outside India. And, when pressed, he couldn’t name any Hollywood stars he’d really like to meet.

Neither could Rubina Ali, his 9-year-old co-star and neighbor.

Both were plucked from the slums of Mumbai by director Danny Boyle to star in “Slumdog Millionaire,” a rags-to-riches tale of a slum kid who makes it big. The film has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Azhar, as his friends call him, was cast as the hero Jamal Malik’s brother Salim, and Rubina as the young Latika, who grows up to be his love interest.

All nine actors who play the three lead characters in three stages of their lives will attend the awards ceremony Sunday. “The kids are on their way to the Oscars! Everyone is very excited!” Boyle said in an e-mail confirming the good news Friday.

[From AP via Huffington Post]

Yesterday I saw a segment on BBC news about the two families of Azhar and Rubina with footage of how they live. It is one thing to hear or read about it, but seeing how they live really brings it home. Azhar’s family doesn’t even have a roof and lives under a plastic sheet. Azhar was crying and his dad said they didn’t want to be shown that way. Azhar’s dad is bone thin and he pulled the skin on his arm to show how pliant it was from chronic tuberculosis. Rubina is doing a little better as her family has a roof. She says she wants to become an actress and use the money to help the poor.

Of course these children’s lives were changed by these roles, but it’s not enough to just pluck them out and show them looking cute on film and at events when it’s convenient. How much would it cost to change their lives now?

There are countless other families living like this all over the world, and you can’t change the world or even a portion of a slum with a movie. At least this film has brought awareness to it, though, and maybe after some pressure the filmmakers will help these families and not let the father of one their child stars die without getting proper medical treatment and a roof over his head. Maybe by inviting them to the Oscars they’re taking more of a determined step in that direction.

You can watch the BBC News segment of the families of the two child stars on YouTube. I would include it here but embedding is disabled.

Azhar crying as he talks about how he lives

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32 Responses to “Slumdog Millionaire child stars will attend Oscars, still live in slums”

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  1. Mairead says:

    CB – in the quoted section could you change “The slumdog kids” to “The Slumdog kids”? It does make a difference to how it’s read, as that way doesn’t denote that they’re referring to kids from a film, but a generic term for the inhabitants of that slum – which it isn’t.

    I’d just like to point something in all the talk of how much money the film has made since it’s release. It had quite a small budget and was apparently very close to not being released in the cinema at all and going straight to DVD.

    So given how much work the children may have done, $3000 could be a very fair and equitable rate given the budget at the time they were employed.

    So all this talk about what they should and shouldn’t have done for the kids at the time of the filming is probably moot, as they likely didn’t have the budget for grand humanitarian gestures then. All this talk of providing education is a reaction as to how well the film is doing now. But the success of the film wasn’t guaranteed and could have easily have just broken-even.

  2. Mairead says:

    Ah crap – I miss “Edit”

  3. Celebitchy says:

    Mairead no offense was meant with the lowercase “slumdog” and I’ve never heard that term before this movie came out. I will capitalize it.

    -edit- I see now that I didn’t write “slumdog kids,” it’s in the source article quoted. Point is taken, but that’s how the source wrote it.

  4. Sara says:

    Ahhh backlash. Finally.

    Yeah, I know. No heart.

  5. Mairead says:

    Apologies CB, I didn’t mean in your comment, but in the quoted article from the BBC; I should have explained myself better. It’s just that there were huge protests in India over how offensive the title of the film was. Using it in the lower case takes it out of it’s oriignal context and passes it off as an acceptable nickname.

    It’s poor editing by the Associated Press, but I recommended changing it in case you got blamed for it.

    (for the record I’ve no problem with the film title, but I am wary of using it as a byword for the people living in a slum. They’re poor, but they’re still people)

  6. Mairead says:

    DAMN…. I meant the quoted article from AP/Huffington Post

  7. Maritza says:

    The least they should do is buy them a decent home, the movie is producing them millions.

  8. Baholicious says:

    Mairead, I agree and that this is what happens when people throw around culture-specific terms, that aren’t (well) known around the rest of the world, because they make a colourful and catchy title.

  9. tigerlille says:

    The film has grossed $151 million so far? One million dollars to buy health insurance and a decent home for the families of each of the nine kids, and sending all the children in each family to school would change their lives for ever. And why not pay for the parents to get training for decent jobs? Minimal investment, incredible return. And the minimum that should be done in view of the film’s unexpected financial success.

  10. tigerlille says:

    I wonder why all the Octomom haters aren’t chiming in here, what with their deep passion for the welfare of children.

  11. Mairead says:

    You’re expecting consistency Tiger? Silly person 😉

    You’re not wrong of course – my point was in relation to the situation on the ground at the time of filming. The studio and distributors are benefiting from the realism of the slums, so why shouldn’t the slums benefit from the reality of the outcome?

  12. hmm says:

    I just read an article on HuffPo by Jamie Lee Curtis and she was pointing out the Oscars is an inappropriate place for children and I kind of agree with her. It seems that the producers of this film are trying to counteract negative publicity and are using these children as props. Imagine visiting Hollywood on Oscar night with its glamour and excess and then returning to your slum a couple of days later. I wish that they would move these children out of the conditions under which they presently live rather than using PR tricks to dampen criticism.

  13. Mairead says:

    @ Hmm – you know I got so sidetracked on the other point that that aspect went clean out of my head. It is terribly unfair to bring these families out of their everyday life, give them a completely arseways view of America that everyone lives in the splendour of Hollywood and dump them back without a solid roof over their heads. It’s not like one of those holiday for under-privileged kids deals, like.

  14. me says:

    those children in the movie are so talented and adorable. I hope they get to move out of the slums ASAP! 🙁 that was heartbreaking seeing that BBC clip. No one should have to live like that ever! Celebitchy, can you tell tell us about any way we can help? Do you know of a charity we can donate to or a group that helps them that we could be a part of? I would really like to help them in any way I can.

  15. Jessie says:

    CB – I mean no offence to your views that film makers can bring attention to the awful living conditions of slum dwellers in India but and that maybe bringing these kids to the Oscars could help but I have to disagree. I’ve lived in Mumbai most of my life and as awful a thing as it is to say NOBODY CARES. The super rich have been surrounded by abject poverty for years and they don’t really feel the need to change it. Films like Slumdog arouse interest and compassion for short periods of time and, generally, the only people who are touched are the foreigners who sympathise but often can’t do anything.

    Bringing Azhar and Rubina to the Oscars changes nothing. In fact, I think it’s downright cruel. They’re going to experience luxury, probably be showered with attention, and then they’re going to return home to poverty and obscurity and probably be forgotten.

    I think it’s amazing how much the film has made people care but it’s unrealistic to expect it to change anything.

  16. Allison says:

    Jessie, I don’t think its true that no one cares and that it’s cruel to take them to the oscars. I care and I’m making serious plans to help. Also, inviting them to the oscars is not cruel. And im sure the film makers will make sure that they do not have to return to those terrible living conditions.

  17. Bina says:

    Does anyone remember what happened to the child actors in Pixote? I believe one even ended up dead because of his involvement with the gangs on the streets.

    Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay was an earlier movie about street children and as far as I remember she made arrangements for the children to go to school and set up trusts for them. The movie is gritty and realistic, unlike Slumdog Millionaire, and here’s a great online resource if you want to read about it:

    I too think it’s astonishingly weird for the kids of Slumdog Millionaire to be taken to the Oscars for what, four days? and then back to their lives in the slum. It could have a terrible effect on their mental health, when they’re already so vulnerable.

  18. concernedcit says:

    Organizations like Habitat for Humanity International are at work in India helping get people out of slums by providing the resources and training so that they can build and sustain decent, affordable homes in the long-term. You can designate your donation specifically to work in India, or find other parts of the world in need of help, at

  19. Rreedy says:

    This movie will do more to pressure the Indian government than all the diplomatic efforts of the last 100 yrs.
    Public pressure will demand reform for the poverty stricken of India.
    The children & parents have been given financial help in housing, school, et but the long term changes will have to come from Indias government.
    America at least provides for its own: the contrast speaks for itself. Agree, dear readers???

  20. Rio says:

    I saw the BBC segment on the television, and it was my understanding that the children ARE being helped: they’re being sent to school for the first time, and trusts *have* been set up for them, to be redeemed once they complete their studies. Maybe that’s not on the YouTube clip?

  21. geronimo says:

    Agree with Mairead. Poor Danny Boyle, he can’t do right for doing wrong. And now he’s supposed to single-handedly take responsibiity for the ills of the Indian government. I find the take on this entire story objectionable and unfair. Lay the blame for the unforgiveable poverty in which these and millions of other Indian families live at the Indian government’s door where it belongs, and not at Danny Boyle’s feet.

  22. Baholicious says:

    Geronimo, unfortunately it’s not the government so much since India began trying to eliminate the caste system after its independence and it’s outlawed in the Indian constitution. This is a centuries-old bred in the bone social system of discrimination.

    This is why Indians are so preoccupied with colour, because the darkness of your skin is held to be equivalent to one’s caste. Light skin is preferable, particularly for women and skin bleaching treatments sell like hotcakes. This isn’t just for vanity, this is so they can get better jobs and, (gasp!) a good husband.

    There’s a line in ‘Mississippi Masala’ (wonderful film) where one of the matrons makes a comment about Sarita Choudury’s character: “Lovely girl, it’s a shame she’s so dark…” and essentially followed by how will you ever marry her off?

    It’s a sad commentary for sure.

  23. geronimo says:

    Baho – I accept that, but it’s still all part and parcel of the ‘Indian’ responsibility. My point it that Boyle should not be a whipping boy here. (I love that film too.)

  24. Baholicious says:

    I agree Geronimo, it is entirely the Indian responsibility, I just meant the government isn’t blind to the issue. I don’t envy Boyle’s position at all. He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

  25. kiratki says:

    I agree with many of the comments on this site. The Dhaaravi slum is the biggest in the world…around 2 million people, I believe. This includes a conglomeration of tin shacks, plastic sheets/tarps, or wooden rooms. It is dirty and crowded and finding running water and/or approriate sanitation is difficult. There are many NGOs that work there (not enough, obviously) running schools and health care centers. I hope people who see the movie and are inspired by it do take some time to check out responsible NGOs (use…I think they’re pretty good informants) and donate your time or money. I think shipping little kids away from their families and dumping them back into their same conditions is cruel and clearly the brainchild of some LA PR firm. I think the wages ($3000 is about 2 or 3 year’s salary for menial workers) at the time may or may not been fair…I don’t know the budget. But I think the way they compensated the kids–guaranteed education and a house for the family only after the kid finishes school–is fair. Otherwise there is tremendous pressure on the family to give the money away to the community and other relatives. And promising a house only after the girls are 18 and finish school means they won’t be married off at a young age (and the money given as dowry in exchange for a better quality husband). With regard to the Indian government…if you think our political system is dysfunctional, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Our current political parties are hugging each other and singing kumbaya compared to the corruption, obstruction, and destruction of Indian politics. I know at one point severl years ago they did build several thousand apartments for slumdwellers and gave thousands of family a new place to live…but when they tried to raze that part of the slums there was a big protest and they couldn’t do it. Many families did move, but others stayed int eh slums and rented out the apartments for extra cash.

    As for some of the other scenes in the movie, I think they were soft-soaping how bad it really is (I’m Indian and my Mom’s from Bombay). Blinding some little kids to make him a more sympathetic beggar is awful, but I’ve seen other kids with mangled limbs and far worse deformities visited on them by the beggar-masters. Sometimes ignorant people give their kids away to these people thinking they’ll have a better life (and their other children are starving, so they can’t afford them). Others just sell their kids or orphans from the village. Little girls from all over India and Nepal are routinely put to work in the sex trade. I hope that if you’re shocked by what you saw in the movie, you’ll do a google search on child trafficking and sex slavery in India.

    I know I’ve been rambling on and on, but I think things like this make us appreciate what we have, even the ability to read a gossip website in the comfort of our chairs. I hope if you guys get a chance you’ll donate a little money to a good NGO and maybe even take a closer look around in your own neighborhood and see what little things we can all do to make our community a little better.

    …ok, back to octomom and the Aniston-Jolie oscar showdown…

  26. Des says:

    The “many” who think its modern day colonialism have good intentions but they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    Putting the money in a trust is the safest course of action because it means the kids will have the money guaranteed – the little boy’s father who gave the interviews about how they were all paid a pittance was paid money to buy a home of their own… and blew it all on booze. They’re poor but they’re human too – they have their shortcomings just like rich people.

    When Mira Nair made Salaam Bombay, she also created trusts for the kids – she didn’t hand the money over. And once the kids reach majority, they can withdraw it themselves, by which time they’ll hopefully have an education and be able to move ahead in their lives.

    And as shocking as it might be to you, there are a lot of families in that area who CHOOSE to live where they live – read Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. And the oped in yesterday’s NY Times about people objecting to terms like Slum for where they live and why.

  27. Xihix says:

    What can they do? They’ve done everything they can. They paid them pretty well for child actors for 30 days of work, set up trust funds after they finish school, given them health care and monthly money, and send them to school everyday. You can’t just toss people living in slums hundreds of thousands of dollars. You’d have to be a flipping idiot.

    Plus, think of it this way. If they hadn’t brought the kids, people would be all over their case for not bringing the kids. And now that they do, they go all over their case that they did bring them here. You just can’t satisfy people, can you?

  28. Annie says:

    I admit to not having read all the comments, so if I’m repeating something, my apologies.

    But as I understand the situation, he did this to protect the kids. Like a place in Mumbai, you get outed as having any kind of anything, you’re going to have a lot of trouble on your hands. I think the producer did what he did to protect the children.

    You’re in a slum, but you have several thousand dollars? I see kidnappings, death threats, all sorts of shit. People do anything for money.

    And those who don’t have it, often are the worse about it. It’s like the lotto winners who end up going into drugs and bankrupt and debt-ridden.

  29. Christina says:

    i think the children were a big part of the movie… in many ways, they made the movie… they were onscreen more often and had some of the more physically and emotionally challenging roles… granted, the beginning budget was small… but obviously, they did a good job and the movie has made tons of money so they should be conpensated accordingly… the right thing to do would be to give these kids enough money to get them out of the slums… the kids were awesome, they did their job well… this isn’t charity… just fair compensation

  30. The most interesting fact that today, i see same article:).
    Although I do not remember there may be a link to the source,
    but probably not – but your site look solid.

  31. vivian says:

    I love this little boy will some one help him and his family, May God bless them

  32. vivian says:

    I hope someone help the little girl and and her family to, please help them get out of the slams, God bless then all.