Child actors go from the slums to the Oscars, and back

Rubina Ali, center, introduces members of her family to a TV crew in her uncle’s home in a slum in Mumbai, India, on Friday. The 9-year-old is one of the stars of Slumdog Millionaire.

Associated Press

Rubina Ali, center, introduces members of her family to a TV crew in her uncle’s home in a slum in Mumbai, India, on Friday. The 9-year-old is one of the stars of Slumdog Millionaire.

MUMBAI, India — They woke up in their makeshift homes in the slums of Mumbai on Thursday. On Sunday, hundreds of millions of people will watch them walk the red carpet at the Oscars in Los Angeles.

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"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.

Amid all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood will be the child actors from Slumdog Millionaire. The rags-to-riches story set and shot in the slums of Mumbai has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.

All nine actors who play the three main characters in three stages of their lives will attend the Oscars, James Finn of Fox Searchlight Pictures said Friday. They include actors comfortable on the red carpet, like 18-year-old Dev Patel, who lives in London, and the glamorous Freida Pinto, 24, who has been praised in Vogue as a new style icon.

But also attending will be Azharuddin, 10, and Rubina Ali, 9, both of whom were plucked from their homes in the slum by director Danny Boyle.

"I'm very happy that I'm going to the Oscars," Rubina said in her home hours before she was to leave for the United States. "My friends are saying, 'Your fate is so good.' "

"I'm not scared," said Rubina, who will be traveling with her uncle. In fact, she was all giddy smiles. "I'm going to go and take a lot of pictures and show them to people over here."

Finn said Fox Searchlight had been making visa and travel arrangements for the children and their relatives up until the last minute. Securing visas and passports in India can be a torturous process, especially for impoverished Indians who often don't have the necessary identification forms.

"Everybody is really excited about it," said Finn, who added that the actors would be staying in a five-star hotel. "It's nice the whole gang will be together."

To the children, they will be in a completely unusual world. Rubina Ali's home is a tiny bubble-gum pink shack. A murky open sewer runs down her narrow lane.

Azharuddin lives in the shabby lean-to.

"He's supposed to be the hero in the movie, but look how he's living," said Azharuddin's mother, Shameem Ismail, sitting on a rotting board outside their home. "It's a zero."

About 65 million Indians, roughly a quarter of the urban population, live in slums.

"Most of them are doomed to remain as they are," said Amitabh Kundu, dean of Jawaharlal Nehru University's School of Social Sciences in New Delhi.

It's too early to tell whether Rubina and Azharuddin —Azhar to his friends — will buck the trend.

Boyle, the British director, and producer Christian Colson figured education was the best way to help Rubina and Azhar. They got them places in a nonprofit, English-language school for underprivileged kids in Mumbai.

The filmmakers also paid the children for 30 days of acting work, give the families a small monthly stipend and set up trust funds that Rubina and Azhar can tap once they graduate.

Colson describes the amount in the trust as substantial, but won't tell anyone how much -—not even the parents — for fear of making the kids vulnerable to exploitation.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

The Oscars

8 p.m. Sunday on ABC. Times movie critic Steve Persall will be live blogging the results with his analysis and the Deal Divas will be live blogging about all things fashion. Keep up with the action at tampabay.com.

See the nominees — all day

Today AMC theaters are showing all five best picture nominees back to back beginning at 10:30 a.m. Admission is $30, $25 for AMC MovieWatchers members (includes a large popcorn and free refills all day). The schedule is Milk, 10:30 a.m.; The Reader, 1:05 p.m.; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 3:45 p.m.; Slumdog Millionaire, 7:15 p.m.; and Frost/Nixon, 9:45 p.m. The pass does allow you to come and go. Participating theaters include Veterans 24, 9302 Anderson Road, Tampa, and Regency 20, 2496 W Brandon Blvd., Brandon. Information: (813) 243-4881 or amctheatres.com.

Child actors go from the slums to the Oscars, and back 02/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2009 11:26pm]

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