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Hopeful ‘Slumdog’ will improve kid stars’ lives: Boyle

Danny says he feels conflicted that "Slumdog Millionaire" has distorted the childhoods of its young stars.

Written by Agencies | Shanghai |
June 19, 2009 2:27:50 pm

British director Danny Boyle says he feels conflicted that his Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” has distorted the childhoods of its young stars from Mumbai’s shantytowns,but hopes the movie’s huge success will improve their lives.

The rags-to-riches story of an orphan from Mumbai’s slums who becomes champion of the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” started out as a relatively small production but went on to make more than USD 350 million worldwide and win eight Oscars,including best picture and best director for Boyle.

The success made instant stars of the film’s ensemble of child stars,but in particular changed the lives of Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubina Ali,10-year-olds who grew up in the shantytowns where the film is set. The two children went from the slums to a jet-setting lifestyle of glamorous awards ceremonies and publicity appearances.

Boyle,who is serving as jury president at the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival,said that he’s mindful of the complications “Slumdog” created for Azhar and Rubina,but said he hopes the film did more good than harm.

“I’m conflicted constantly about it. I think ultimately it’s right they were in the film,” he said.

The filmmakers have drawn up an education plan and established a trust fund for the two children and hired a social worker to monitor their families. They also donated USD 747,500 to a charity devoted to improving the lives of Mumbai street children.

When the two children’s shanties were razed as part of a slum-clearing campaign,the filmmakers and Indian government officials offered them new homes. But efforts to improve their living conditions have been complicated by the changing demands of their families and jealousy from their neighbours.

“Any way you can educate kids from those kind of circumstances,I think a lot of people agree is the cleverest,strongest,most sustainable way of trying to break their cycle of poverty that people are in in those kinds of communities.

You’ve got to say it’s a good thing,” Boyle said,but adding that “real solutions will come in the end from Indians themselves.”

“It won’t come from some movie. It’ll come from political change and development in the attitude of the government to its responsibility to its citizens and the provision of water,sanitation,basic human rights that are provided to people,” he said.

Azhar and Rubina recently performed on TV in Hong Kong.

Boyle said he and his fellow filmmakers would prefer that the families accept fewer invitations for such appearances because they distract the children from school. However,they are reluctant to criticize the parents because “it’s money. How can they resist it?”

He said the two children’s exposure to the Western film industry may not have been a bad thing because it made them more sophisticated and forced them to learn English.

Boyle is developing another film set in Mumbai,a thriller that draws background from Suketu Mehta’s book “Maximum City.”

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