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From nine-year-olds from the slums of Bandra to children from middleclass Bhayandar and Goregaon,the young cast of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire came from all over Mumbai.

From nine-year-olds from the slums of Bandra to children from middleclass Bhayandar and Goregaon,the young cast of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire came from all over Mumbai. The Sunday Express meets the children who’ve got the world watching

The youngest Latika

Rubaina Ali

“I met all the big actor log and got pictures with them. But I didn’t meet my favourite star,Salman Khan”

It’s almost noon but nine-year-old Rubaina Ali has just woken up. She returned home from the premiere of Slumdog Millionaire only at 1 a.m. She sits in a corner of her 16-sq ft house in the slums of Bandra (East),dunking butter pav in her strong tea. “Kal raat humein scooter badalna pada media se bachchne ke liye. Do log to yahaan tak aye (We had to switch rickshaws to escape the media. Two of them followed us here),” she says.

Shy and still unaware of her star status,the young girl quickly dresses up for afternoon school. “But we must go to Azhar’s (Ismail,co-star) house before that. He and I go to school together.” On her way to the Bandra Municipality School at Pali Hill,little Rubaina talks as she deftly dodges pits and potholes in the by-lanes of her slum. She talks about how the film crew transferred her from an Urdu medium school to English medium. “I like going to school. Teacher has made me the class monitor. All the kids call me Rubaina didi because I am the eldest,” she says in Bambaiya Hindi. “My birthday is next month. I don’t know the date,” she says.

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Her eyes widen as she narrates how she met all the big “actor log” yesterday and got pictures with them. But she is upset that she didn’t get to meet her favourite star Salman Khan. “I like Shah Rukh too. I saw Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi twice,” she says.

Rubaina wants to keep acting. “They (Slumdog Millionaire) took 30-40 kids first. Not everyone passed. I was scared initially but now I like it. I could easily memorise dialogues by saying them aloud twice.”

—DIPTI NAGPAUL-D’SOUZA

The young Latika

Tanvi Lonkar

“The dances were great fun. It was a grand experience. I loved the glamour,the clothes and the makeup”

Poised,yet a bit awkward—that’s 13-year-old Tanvi Lonkar. “I’m very shy and get embarrassed when people keep looking at me wherever I go. People I have always known now say,‘ab tu badi star ho gayi hai’ (now you are a big star). That makes me feel strange,” she says. “Sometimes I feel special,but sometimes I’m just embarrassed,” she says.

Tanvi,who comes from a middle-class Maharashtrian family in Goregaon,is yet to get used to the spotlight. “All this is new for us and we are taking one small step at a time. As of now,I am her manager,I take care of her interviews. But we are learning every day,” says her father Ganesh Lonkar. And they seem to be learning fast. “My father keeps me grounded,keeps reminding me that the publicity shouldn’t go to my head. He tells me how to conduct myself in public,how to keep my cool and how to deal with tricky situations. And yes,he always advises me on how to talk to the media,” says Tanvi,a student of Dr S Radhakrishnan Vidyalaya in Malad.

A keen dancer,Tanvi loved her role as Latika especially because of her dance sequences. “The dances were great fun. Overall,it was a grand experience—I loved the glamour,clothes and makeup,” she says,remembering how the cast admired her for her patience with the long makeup sessions.

Tanvi has always wanted to be “both an astronomer and a pilot”. But now,this Class VIII student has a new,not-so-secret ambition. “I don’t mind becoming an actor,” she says.

—NITYA KAUSHIK

The youngest jamal

Aayush Khedekar

On the scene where he had to run up to Amitabh Bachchan for an autograph,covered in muck: “It wasn’t that hard. I was actually covered in chocolate.”

Anyone who has seen Slumdog Millionaire would remember the little Jamal,with his impish looks. This Jamal,played by Aayush Khedekar,runs from the cops,leads a pack of friends—mostly bigger than him—and walks away with applause.

Sitting at his home in suburban Bhayandar,the the eight-year-old prompts his parents Mahesh and Saili with dates and names as they talk of his fledgling acting career. As his grandmother serves snacks,Aayush’s younger brother Soham enters the room,a piercing scream announcing his arrival. His father puts a handkerchief on his mouth and Soham runs off with his friends. This is clearly his elder brother’s day.

Mahesh talks indulgently of Aayush,the way he prepared for his karate tournament. “He woke up after we had gone to bed,and practised till 4 a.m.,all by himself. At 6.30 a.m.,he went to the tournament and came back with a prize,” he says. This karate black belt has several films,TV serials and ads (Amul Srikhand,Kellogg’s and HDFC),tucked in his belt.

Initially,Aayush was seen as too young for any of the roles in Slumdog but after he auditioned in Marathi,co-director Loveleen Tandon knew she wanted the boy in. In an unforgettable scene in the film,Jamal,covered from head to toe in muck,runs up to Amitabh Bachchan for an autograph. “It wasn’t that hard,” Aayush smiles,“because I was actually covered in chocolate.” His favourite filming experience,though,“was hanging upside-down from a train”.

—NIKHIL ROSHAN

The young jamal

Tanay Chheda

On the early morning shoots at Agra: “I was in front of the Taj Mahal,wearing a thin shirt,with my buttons open. I just couldn’t find my voice”

When Tanay Chheda auditioned for Slumdog Millionaire in October 2007,he was no newcomer to the glitzy world of cinema. With Don and Taare Zameen Par under his belt and Gulel and Mastang Mama set for release,the 12-year-old poses like a true professional—a few funny faces and an arm stretched out in an ‘actorly’ flourish.

Tanay’s mother Tejal says she never imagined the film would make it this far. “It still hasn’t sunk in,” she says. Tanay,who plays a street-smart boy who cheats tourists at the Taj Mahal,says filming in the November chill of Agra wasn’t easy. “There I was,in front of the Taj Mahal,wearing a thin shirt,with my buttons open. We struggled for half-an-hour because I just couldn’t find my voice.”

Tanay,who has worked with the likes of Alyque Padamsee and Gerson Da Cunha,has had an early association with theatre. His mother says she didn’t want her son to act in films but two years ago,Tanay went up to actor-director Farhan Akhtar and introduced himself on the sets of a popular TV show. What followed were auditions and a part in the remake of Don. Ever since,Tanay has also done ads and played a paraplegic in Taare Zameen Par.

With more than three films in two years,how does he find time to do his homework? “Studies come first,” says the mother. “I’m very particular that Tanay’s studies shouldn’t suffer. So we try as much as possible to get his shooting schedules to coincide with his vacations.”

—NIKHIL ROSHAN

The youngest salim

Azhar Ismail

“The school bell is ringing. I can’t miss the class. Rubaina and I will meet you tomorrow,okay?”

We reach the Bandra Municipality School but Azhar looks fidgety—the class will begin any time and he is scared his teacher will scold him if goes in late. Torn between being courteous and being punctual,the nine-year-old gives a nervous warm smile and greets us in English,thanking us as we compliment him on his work.

Azhar’s disarmingly honest smile makes it difficult to believe that he played a bully in the film.

Rubaina Ali and Azhar joined the school last year and have been best friends ever since. “I made friends with Tanay and Danny uncle was very nice. But Rubaina is my best friend,” he says,as he hands her his bag to pose for the picture. So,is he scared of Rubaina now that she is the class monitor? No,he says,he can bully her and everyone in class.

After class,Azhar goes back ‘home’ to his tiny shack in an open park outside Bandra station. A few months ago,the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation demolished Azhar’s slum and the family and their neighbours have been living in a park since.

His father Mohammed Ismail is ailing and jobless. And the young boy knows it. “I want to study. And I want to act too,” Azhar says.

But for now,he is in a hurry to get to his class. “The school bell is ringing. I can’t miss the class. We’ll meet you tomorrow,okay?”

—DIPTI NAGPAUL-D’SOUZA

The young salim

Ashutosh Gajiwala

“The shooting was hilarious. I loved the costumes. I had to dress up like a mawali in dirty shirts and battered jeans”

“Cinema is a world of cheats. It is a world that doesn’t exist. And you learn this best when you are part of it,” says 15-year-old Ashutosh Gajiwala. “Everything you do behind the screen is a lie. You cheat yourself by portraying somebody you are not. The sounds are all created,the look and the ambiance—everything is unreal,even the weather,” says Ashutosh.

But Ashutosh doesn’t mind playing his little “lie”—he enjoyed every minute of filming. “The shooting was hilarious. I especially enjoyed my costumes. I had to dress up like a mawali in slick jackets,dirty shirts and battered jeans,” he says. He describes how the costume designer bought brand-new shirts from Fabindia and tattered them to suit the role. “But when they pulled out a cheese grater and grated the shoes and the jeans to make them look rugged,I doubled up laughing,” he says.

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“I learnt during the shoot that the world of films in very meticulous; certainly not easy. It is a whole new world,with new rules and new laws. It’s a world where qualifications and accolades don’t matter. You have to show your worth then and there,” he says. He isn’t sure what he wants to do when he grows up,but knows he will be “in the creative field”.

—NITYA KAUSHIK