Monday, July 20, 2009

More "Slumdog" Schadenfreude

Azhar Mohammed Ismail, the ten-year-old star of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, got his house knocked down by authorities this week. The boy and his family, who had been squatting "in a temporary makeshift shelter made up of plastic sheets over bamboo sticks, in a slum near Bandra East in Mumbai" that is government-owned land reportedly earmarked for a public garden, say that they first received news that they would have to seek accommodations elsewhere when the demolition crew arrived and woke them up. The police also reportedly pointed up their eviction notice with a whack upside the lad's head with a bamboo stick. An article in the New York Daily News painted a picture of the scene that even Danny Boyle might think was a little over the top: "The boy, who lost his pet kittens in the chaos, picked dolefully barefoot through the wreckage, looking for anything salvageable. 'Where is my chicken?' he asked. He managed to save a badly wrinkled movie poster for Slumdog Millionaire signed in black marker by the movie's director: 'Azhar, with love and thanks, Danny Boyle.'"

Both Azhar's family and the family of Rubina Ali, who played his tiny love interest in the movie, have reportedly been "promised new accommodation by a local housing authority," but for the time being are in housing limbo. (Rubina Ali was recently in the news for having rejected the embraces of estranged mother in favor of the father who'd raised her, who himself was subsequently charged with having tried to sell his daughter, for $290,000, to an Arab sheik. Stories about the misfortunes that continue to befall the children, which invariably come attached to reminders of how much Boyle and the other people who've profited from the film are indebted to them, have been very popular in the media since at least the build-up to the Oscars ceremony, and will probably continue to be so for the forseeable future. (For his part, Boyle has gotten the children enrolled in school for the first time in their lives and set up a trust fund for their education.) One side effect of all this may be to make you wonder about the lives of the poorest children in India who did not appear in a popular award-winning movie, and who the world press, accordingly, could not care less about.

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