Slumdog Millionaire For Reals: The Kid Actors Still Live There!

Posted on April 19, 2009 by

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I loved Slumdog Millionaire…currently, the movie that battles daily with Forrest Gump and Shawshank Redemption for favorite ever movie, but the drama outside the movie’s boundaries is much more compelling and a lot more tragic.

Two of the child actors who starred in the movie still live in the slums of Mumbai.

Yeah, those kids showed up to the Oscars in America in Los Angeles. But a week later, according to HuffPo, they were getting beaten, getting sick, and still wearing their Oscar clothes.

Danny Boyle, the director of the movie, has gotten some heat for not doing much for these kids, and just recently pledged 500,000 British pounds to some program that promises to teach good hygiene and “educate.” Honestly that program sounds like yet another corruption machine and doesn’t sound like it does much to uplift anyone, especially if its mission is that placid. The work that needs to be done can’t really be fixed by one organization.

Recently, the UK paper that reported them still wearing their Oscar clothes ‘uncovered’ a ‘scheme’ by one of those actor’s parents and his brother to sell his “Oscar-winning” daughter. “Selling.” Trading.

The man is named Rafiq, and apparently he’s trying to “make money” off of his daughter, Rubina Ali and her success.

The idea of a man selling his child clearly offends the sensibilities of lots of people including the UK paper reporter, who unabashedly paints the father and uncle of Rubina ali as not only cold parents, but whiners and complainers:

But Rafiq, 36, again complained: “They haven’t looked after us. They gave some money at the start but they gave us nothing afterwards. They gave us around 150,000 rupees (£2,040). They’ve been talking about giving us a house, but all they do is talk.” Rubina chipped in: “But I did get toys. When we were filming in Juhu beach I got some crayons.”

In fact Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson have set up a trust to ensure Rubina gets a proper education, is well housed and receives support dealing with media attention.

…It was reported that Rafiq had spent some of his daughter’s film fees on medical treatment to a leg he broke while working as a carpenter. He also used her cash to buy a new mobile phone for himself so agents can contact him to discuss work offers for his daughter.

…A fortnight ago Rubina and fellow child actor Azharuddin Ismail were each given a £12,000 luxury apartment by Slumdog sound engineer Rasul Pookutty. The property in Kerala, south India, was awarded to Rasul – who himself escaped poverty – by the local council in honour of his Oscar achievement.

But Rafiq dismissed the gesture, complaining: “We haven’t got anything yet, it’s all supposed to come later. It’s all talk. It’s being built, it’ll take a year to be finished.”

I don’t know the man, Rafiq, and I ain’t one to judge. I am not in that context, have never been in that context, and won’t pretend I know what it’s like to be in that context.  Were I to be fully engrossed in that context, perhaps I’d sell my daughter too.

If selling your children is done with regularity and is the norm (as is noted in the article), shouldn’t the reporter and the commentors’ outrage be directed not at the father, but at the system, the living conditions, the mechanisms which regularly prompt not only this man, but other parents to give up their children?

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There’s an interesting reaction to the article that I’d like to mediate/shoot down in flames. It touches on western feminism and another on the adequate compensation of those actors:

By SlumCat. Posted April 20 2009 at 12:41 AM.

I am so thankful that I live in America as a woman. Sadly, females are not valued in many places and young girls are sold off on a regular basis. No one hears and no one gets involved.

This girl has the benefit of celebrity in her case. She was adequately paid for her work. Many, many unknown actors are hired for low-budget films and make next to nothing. She received more than that, and more yet to come, from the filmmakers. They didn’t want her to be a target for con artists and kidnappers so they didn’t pay a lump sum. They did arrange for her escape from the slums, but that has been blocked by her father. The filmmakers did all that they could do, and certainly more than they would have had she been an American girl.

2 Points:

1. Am slightly annoyed at the Western feminist bent on this, which seems to imply that the culture doesn’t care about females, and that little girls are the only victims that we should care about. I’m pretty sure that shit happens to the little dudes as well.

2. Adequate Compensation.

In this case it sounds like “adequate compensation” means “better than nothing.” Which still seems to badly miss the mark. The Western idea of adequate compensation seems to mean “money and other capital” to one individual, preferably kids. Seems to be reflected in that the director brought those kids to America, bought those actors some clothes, set up trust funds for them, while they and their families still live in the substandard state of the slums.

In anthropological ethnographies, a community is usually adopted by the anthropologist, and it is part of anthropological ethics that they do something in return for the communities. That’s the part that seems to be missed in these populist commentaries…communal as opposed to individual responsibility. It wasn’t just those actors they showed and made lots of money off of, it was their houses, their conditions on display, and they found a way to make a grip of money off of that, which I don’t think was intentionally malicious or as conniving as I make it sound.

I think the director, all the people in Slumdog generally mean well, but all they probably wanted to do was make a movie, do some good and be done with it. I doubt he had any idea what he was getting himself into.

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Tying into this discussion of adequate compensation, another commentor talked about how the unbuilt donated luxury apartment and how the Rafiq’s reaction should’ve been more accepting of the Slumdog Staff’s proposition.

By Jeri. Posted April 19 2009 at 11:13 PM.

I Completly understand the looking after the other family members but if that was REALLY the case he wouldnt he be more then prepared to move into the place that will be built in a yr near mumbai?!. Wat is another yr when he has been there all his life?

The reason Rafiq is skeptical, well, it hasn’t been built yet. This a demographic that is prone to being outside the social contract, and routinely having promises broken because of their lack of legitimacy. Perhaps a guarded pessimism when you’ve been continually let down.

Another reason Mr. Ali does not like the apartment in Karala…he’s leaving what he does know. This is what he means by “his life has all been in Mumbai.” His connections, his family, his networks, his knowledge, his sociality is grounded in this locality. Something also constantly alluded to in The Wire, when Bodie took that trip to Philadelphia and revealed that he’d never been outside of Baltimore or in the scene preceding his death where he was surprised that a peaceful area existed in Baltimore.

A groundedness in local surroundings…that’s probably something very difficult for Westerners with internets, web 2.0, twitter, facebook status updates, iPhones, cars, planes, trains, tours, trips to Cancun, trips to Paris, trips to New York, trips to London, trips to Fiji would have a difficult time perceiving…I myself can’t imagine that.