It has been almost six months since the child stars of Slumdog Millionaire journeyed to Hollywood to attend the Oscars. Since then, their lives have been irreversibly altered, sometimes for the better, others for the worse.
As Emily Wax reports for the Washington Post, Azhar Mohammed Ismaill, 11, has, for the most part, benefited from his recent catapult to fame. His family has moved out of the slums and into a two room apartment in a high-rise building, a gift from Slumdog director Danny Boyle, who Azhar's co-star Rubina Ali calls "Uncle Danny."
But even post-Slumdog, Azhar's life has not been all that easy. In May, the government bulldozed the illegal shanties that housed both Rubina and Azhar, as well as countless other families. Azhar's father was hospitalized around the same time with tuberculosis, while Azhar was reduced to living on the streets, sleeping under a tarp. Ziyan Contractor, a teacher at the children's school, says this is normal for kids in the slums. "Nearly every child from the slums has had their home bulldozed and has a parent who has a drinking or gambling problem or has walked out," she told the Post. "Every single scene of that movie was true. The only scene that wasn't true was when they dance on the train platform at the end. There is no space to dance on the platforms of Mumbai: only a crush of people."
In a sense, Azhar's rise out of the slums and into the once-unattainable world of middle-class life is emblematic of the increasing social mobility that has hit India like a tsunami. Wax explains,
In many ways, they are experiencing at warp speed the masala of euphoria and turmoil that India's vast poor feel as they emerge from the iron bonds of caste and class to an era of genuine social mobility.
Over two decades, India has awakened from a drowsy agricultural nation and into an industrial one that has lifted millions out of poverty. Rapid urbanization and the opening of markets has broken down feudal village roles and inspired young Indians to grab hold of new destinies in cities far from their birthplaces. Mumbai has become a magnet for a new generation of Indians, a New York of India, where professions are no longer inherited, where hundreds sleep on the street for a chance at a better life.
But out of the two children, Azhar is the luckier one. Rubina may be famous, but whether or not she has been granted a "better life" is arguable. Although Boyle has offered to buy Rubina's family an apartment like Azhar's, her father has refused. He says he does not want to live anywhere but the Bandra neighborhood because all of his work contacts are located there. She frequently misses school to shoot commercials or fashion shows. Her teachers say they are worried about her, but her father and stepmother refuse to come by the school and speak with them. These problems pale in comparison to the highly-publicized undercover sting by a British Newspaper, when Rubina's father was caught tried to sell her for the equivalent of $290,000.
And yet Rubina remains cheerfully optimistic about her new life. She seems to enjoy the visitors and the attention she receives (Wax even calls her a "mini-diva"). "I think back to what my life was like before the movie," she said. "No one ever asked who I was or what I thought about anything."
Life After 'Slumdog' Full Of Promise — And Skeletons [Washington Post]