Azharuddin’s journey from the slums to Oscars

Fate got child actor role in 'Slumdog Millionaire'
Monday , 23 February 2009
Azharuddin’s journey from the slums to Oscars
Mohammad Azharuddin Ismail shops for shoes at a market in Mumbai just before flying off to the US to attend the Oscar ceremony

Azharuddin Ismail Shaikh Usman, the Mumbai slum boy who has now become an international celebrity, may not have landed his plum role in "Slumdog Millionaire" and a good deal of money in the bank but for a happy coincidence, says his agent.

Zainul Abdeen Khan, his agent, says he had taken around 35 children in the required age group for an audition with the production crew of the movie, which has now bagged eight Oscars - a ceremony attended by 10-year-old Azharuddin.

"It was a long and tiring day almost 18 months ago, when the selections were being done. Finally, one boy was selected for the role and he was to be taken to the director's team for approval," Khan told IANS.

Just then, the selected boy developed a tummy upset and had to be rushed home to the nearby Garib Nagar slum by his father.

"However, by the time he returned after half an hour, the director's team had already selected Azharuddin. He was destined to create history," said Khan, himself a resident of the adjacent slum colony, Behrampada in Bandra east.

Khan is an agent who has been supplying children to various Bollywood and foreign movie crews in and around Mumbai for the past 10 years. He had been commissioned for the job by a woman, Alka, who was retained by the production team of "Slumdog Millionaire".

Initially, the children were to paid up to Rs.150 per day for the smallest role in the movie, according to Khan. The producers entered into a separate arrangement with Azharuddin and paid him a monthly retainership of Rs.5,000 for over a year for his work in the movie.

Later, Azharuddin was paid around Rs.175,000 which has been put aside in a bank account. The producers have also put aside another Rs.2.5 million which he will get when he turns 18, Khan claimed.

As the movie gained in popularity and earned critical acclaim worldwide, Azharuddin's family members told the producers they were homeless and were in need of a small house.

"The producers have agreed tentatively to provide a home to Azharuddin and his co-star Rubina Ali, also living in Garib Nagar slum. I showed them around some flats costing Rs.1.75 million, but the producers have kept a decision in abeyance. We are hopeful, now with so many honours to their credit, the producers will not disappoint these two children," Khan claimed.

Apart from 17 children from Garib Nagar, 10 children were selected from Dharavi - notorious as Asia's largest slum. A couple of girls was chosen from Jogeshwari, one from Malad, and five children from Nala Sopara suburb in Thane district for bit roles, Khan said.

Indo-Asian News Service