"Slumdog" Child Stars Miss Out On Movie Millions
Their roles in "Slumdog Millionaire" have won them international acclaim and seen them rub shoulders with the film’s glamorous stars and its British director.
by Dean Nelson and Barney Henderson in Mumbai
January 27, 2009
But the reality of life for Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail is far closer to
that of the characters they play in the story of love, violent crime and
extreme poverty in India.
The child actors’ parents have accused the hit film’s producers of exploiting
and underpaying the eight-year-olds, disclosing that both face uncertain
futures in one of Mumbai’s most squalid slums.
Slumdog Millionaire has won four Golden Globes and is nominated for 10
Oscars. It is on its way to making hundreds of millions of pounds in box
The film’s British director, Danny Boyle, has spoken of how he set up trust
funds for Rubina and Azharuddin and paid for their education. But it has
emerged that the children, who played Latika and Salim in the early scenes
of the film, were paid less than many Indian domestic servants.
Rubina was paid £500 for a year’s work while Azharuddin received £1,700,
according to the children's parents.
However a spokesman for the film’s American distributors, Fox Searchlight,
disputed this saying the fees were more than three times the average annual
salary an adult in their neighbourhood would receive. They would not
disclose the actual sum.
Both children were found places in a local school and receive £20 a month for
books and food. However, they continue to live in grinding poverty and their
families say they have received no details of the trust funds set up in
their names. Their parents said that they had hoped the film would be their
ticket out of the slums, and that its success had made them realise how
little their children had been paid.
The children received considerably less than the poor Afghan child stars of The
Kite Runner, who embarrassed their Hollywood producers when they
disclosed that they had been paid £9,000.
Rubina and Azharuddin live a few hundreds yards from each other in a tangle of
makeshift shacks alongside Mumbai’s railway tracks at Bandra. Azharuddin is
in fact worse off than he was during filming: his family’s illegal hut was
demolished by the local authorities and he now sleeps under a sheet of
plastic tarpaulin with his father, who suffers from tuberculosis.
“There is none of the money left. It was all spent on medicines to help me
fight TB,” Azharuddin’s father, Mohammed Ismail, said. “We feel that the
kids have been left behind by the film. They have told us there is a trust
fund but we know nothing about it and have no guarantees.”
Further down the tracks, an open sewer trickles past the hut that Rubina
shares with her parents, older brother and sister. Her father, Rafiq Ali
Kureshi, a carpenter, broke his leg during filming and has been out of work
since. “I am very happy the movie is doing so well, but it is making so much
money and so much fame and the money they paid us is nothing. They should
pay more,” he said, wafting away the smoke from a nearby fire. “I have no
regrets. I just had no knowledge of what she should have been paid.”
His daughter has been overwhelmed by the glamour of her experience and
idolises Freida Pinto, the screen beauty who plays her character as an
adult, with whom she attended the Indian premiere of the film last week .“I
want to be a star like Freida,” she said. “I am going to ask Danny-uncle
(director Boyle) to take me to London and be in more films.”
A Fox Searchlight spokesman said: "The welfare of Azhar and Rubnia has
always been a top priority for everyone involved with Slumdog Millionaire.
"A plan has been in place for over 12 months to ensure that their
experience working on Slumdog Millionaire would be of long term benefit. For
30 days work, the children were paid three times the average local annual
adult salary. Last year after completing filming, they were enrolled in
school for the first time and a fund was established for their future
welfare, which they will receive if they are still in school when they turn
"Due to the exposure and potential jeopardy created by the unwarranted
press attention, we are looking into additional measures to protect Azhar
and Rubina and their families. We are extremely proud of this film, and
proud of the way our child actors have been treated."
Last night, Mr Boyle and the film’s producer Christian Colson defended their
arrangements for the children.
In a written statement they said that that they had “paid painstaking and
considered attention to how Azhar and Rubina’s involvement in the film could
be of lasting benefit to them over and above the payment they received for
their work”. It added: “The children had never attended school, and in
consultation with their parents we agreed that this would be our priority.
Since June 2008 and at our expense, both kids have been attending school and
they are flourishing under the tutelage of their dedicated and committed
teachers. Financial resources have been made available for their education
until they are 18. We were delighted to see them progressing well when we
visited their school and met with their teachers last week.”
A “substantial lump sum” would be paid to the children on completion of their
studies, the statement added.