MUMBAI: The slum kid stars of Slumdog Millionaire want a lot of things in life — new houses, a car, trips to London and Paris — but they aren’t too interested in school.
Ten-year-old Rubina Ali has missed nearly 75 per cent of her classes and her co-star hasn’t done much better — truancy that filmmakers say will jeopardise their trust funds and monthly stipends if it continues. Their parents blame the absences on deaths in the family or other misfortunes, including the demolition of Rubina’s shanty by city authorities earlier this year, and have promised to do better.
But the filmmakers say the children are being lured away by endorsement deals, television appearances and other opportunities to cash in on their celebrity - at the risk of losing the money set aside for them once they graduate.
“Our love got a little bit tougher today,” Slumdog producer Christian Colson told The Associated Press on October 29. “We understand there are opportunities for both children — and for the parents of both children — to cash in, in the short term, on their celebrity. We don’t have a problem with that. But if they want to benefit from the trust, they have to get those attendance rates up.”
Beneath the debate
about school is a deeper tug-of-war between the
urge for as much short-term gain as possible and the filmmakers’ desire to endow the children with a
Rubina and 11-year-old Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail both grew up in one of Mumbai’s most wretched slums. They shot to fame after starring in the rags-to-riches blockbuster.
After filming ended, director Danny Boyle and Colson got the pair placed in a Mumbai school that helps disadvantaged children. But these days, Azhar is showing up to class just 37 per cent of the time and Rubina’s attendance is only 27 per cent, said Noshir Dadrawala, an administrator of the trust.
“It’s pathetic,” said Dadrawala, adding that a flurry of awards ceremonies, festivals and fashion shows that have taken the children to Paris, Chennai and elsewhere are detracting from their studies.
These have included Rubina’s Paris trip to promote a book about her life, Slumgirl Dreaming: My Journey to the Stars, as well as a tea party at Westminster in London, a dance number on a Hong Kong TV show and, of course, a trip to Los Angeles for the Oscars.
“They are constantly
going... That’s fine, but go over the weekend, not at the sacrifice of school,” Dadrawala said.
The parents were told that if the children do not get their attendance above 70 per cent they would lose their monthly $120 stipend. And if the kids fail to graduate, they will forfeit the lump sum payment set aside to help them get a start in life, Dadrawala said.
The filmmakers have declined to reveal the amount of the trust for fear of exposing the families to exploitation. In addition, both families are covered by medical insurance, which the trust finalised on Thursday.
In July, Azhar moved out of a sheet metal shack in the slum into a $50,000 one-bedroom apartment the filmmakers bought for his family. Rubina remains in the slum.
The trustees say they’ve shown Rubina’s family a half-dozen apartments, all of which they rejected. Rubina’s father complained the apartments were too small or too far from his daughter’s school and said it will cost at least $73,000 to find an appropriate place.
But the filmmakers aren’t bargaining. If Rubina’s family doesn’t take a place by January, the money for the apartment will be given to a charity, Colson said.
“He’s continually turned down offers of decent accommodation we’ve offered in the hope that he can embarrass us into making more money available,” Colson said of Rubina’s dad. “We’ve got a significant sum of money sitting there, which other children could benefit from. That’s not the outcome we want. But we need Rafiq to understand we’re not here to negotiate.”