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Spoilers: The Children Of Slumdog Millionaire Are Just Kids Being Kids

Illustration for article titled Spoilers: The Children Of iSlumdog Millionaire/i Are Just Kids Being Kids

An article in Time asks "Has Fame Spoiled the Slumdog Millionaire Kids?" But I think that's the wrong focus. Instead I'd ask, "How do Rubina and Azhar decide what to prioritize in life?"


The article opens:

Young Rubina Ali's social diary has been more than full these last few months: a trip to Paris, a tea party in Westminster in London, a dance show in Hong Kong, product endorsements and numerous trips in and out of India for award shows and to promote the Slumdog Millionaire child actor's autobiography, Slumgirl Dreaming. However, the school she attends in Mumbai along with her co-star, Azhar Mohammad, is not happy with either her attendance or her attitude. School officials say that the little girl, who once always greeted her teachers politely in the morning, now disregards them - that is, when she finds the time to attend school. Her father defends her against her teachers, saying Rubina is just a child and is under a lot of pressure.


There are issues with both of the children attending school as promised. Despite the monthly stipend they receive for maintaining 70% attendance, both Rubina and Azhar attend school less than 40% of the time. Now, Rubina and Azhar are just kids - however, as children they're more easily manipulated. Time reports:

The Jai Ho trust was also charged with finding suitable housing for the children, outside of the slums. While Shamim and Azhar have moved to their new 250 sq.ft apartment in Santa Cruz West, Rafiq has refused to move out of the slum, saying that 2,500,000 rupees ($50,000) is not enough to buy a flat. "I wanted to live in Bandra, as it is near to Rubina's school and I don't want her to travel a lot to get to school everyday. Can you get a flat in Bandra for that amount? I asked them to increase the budget a little bit to around 4,000,000 Rupees ($80,000) so that I could buy a flat there. But they refused. So what can I do?"

Interestingly, in an earlier post exploring Rubina and Azhar's post-movie lives, the original reason for the reluctance to move was stated a bit differently:

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.


In addition, while Time quotes Rubina's father as saying she "burnt her foot," other reports say Rubina is busy working on fashion shows and modeling shoots. I would actually expect this behavior from her family, down to lying to teachers about her whereabouts - after all, child stars face the same complications here, especially when a parent realizes that their child's take home pay could surpass his or her own income. But the problem here is that we can't be sure what Rubina wants versus the will of her father. We also don't know if Rubina will eventually come to resent going to school - after all, the world of work is very appealing. Many children around the world leave school early voluntarily, in pursuit of money and independence in the job market. While Rubina may have been a quiet, obedient student before, it's clear now that her world view has changed.

The same thing has happened to Azhar. As the Washington Post reported a few months ago:

His mother, Shamim, who married at 16 and has only an elementary-school education herself, says Azhar is bright but sometimes doesn't want to go to school. Azhar is having trouble adjusting to his notoriety, which has led to fights with classmates.

Maybe that's because at just 11 Azhar is the most successful person he knows. He has become the family patriarch, putting food on the table and even lifting the extended family out of the slums and into a middle-class neighborhood.

"Why should I go to school," he recently told a teacher. "I'm an actor."

After Danny Boyle gave him a laptop, Azhar got frustrated that no one in his family knew how to get Internet service so he could play video games.


This may be more pronounced for Rubina, who explains:

"I think back to what my life was like before the movie," she said, as she thumb-wrestled with visitors. "No one ever asked who I was or what I thought about anything."


Perhaps her diva like behavior is a result of her newfound status and financial power, something that she never experienced before the film. (The Jai Ho foundation, which is monitoring the children's progress and keeping the bulk of their film money in a trust until they turn eighteen, has pledged to help the families by taking a number of actions.)

However, as we've seen countless times (Drew Barrymore, for starters), children are not always equipped to navigate stardom... and neither are their parents. Reading through these pieces, I felt a continuous ping of concern for Rubina. I'm a bit uncomfortable making a judgment about her parents - some of the articles have more than a whiff of Western paternalism, and, of course, the media loves to box people into "hero" and "villain" roles.


Still, Rubina's father's reluctance to leave the slums where they live, combined with other incidents, may indicate that he is not going to be the best guardian. There isn't much good that can come of a greedy parent and a child with the potential for a high income.


Has Fame Spoiled The Slumdog Millionaire Kids? [Time]
Life After 'Slumdog' Full Of Promise — And Skeletons [Washington Post]
'Slumdog Millionaire' Trust says it's looking after child star Rubina Ali [Entertainment Weekly]

Earlier:Life After Slumdog
Irreconcilable Differences: When Kids Dump Their Parents

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God, I just don't know how I feel about all this. Whenever I hear more about how the Slumdog kids are doing, I just keep wondering if in a decade's time we're going to remember Danny Boyle as making a botched attempt to not exploit or enable the exploitation of the child actors who made his Oscar-winning film. It just seems like another example of Western culture swooping in without fully understanding what they're getting into. He got a beautiful film out of it, but at what cost? #slumdogmillionaire