Mumbai, Feb 21 (IANS) Thousands of slumdwellers in Mumbai, many of them roofless and living beside gutters, are praying for the success of 'Slumdog Millionaire' at the prestigious Academy Awards Sunday, hoping it will change the lives of some of them.
Though a majority of the slumdwellers in Garib Nagar, adjacent to the Bandra railway station in western Mumbai, can ill afford the steep ticket rates in multiplexes to watch the movie, they are still rooting for it. Some 20-odd children from Garib Nagar have played big and small roles in the movie.
Two children who essayed important roles - Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, and Rubina Ali Qureshi, 9, both hailing from the slums - have already become the area's superstars and are being idolised by the young and old alike. They flew off for the Oscars ceremony Friday.
'Their parents are very poor, they do odd jobs barely earning Rs.50-100 ($1-2) a day. Their homes were demolished by the civic authorities almost three months ago and they sleep under the open sky in a nearby garden,' Dildar Bandarkar, a social activist and the area's Samajwadi Party leader, told IANS.
Rubina's mother Khushi has left her husband Rafiq, a carpenter. The little girl has gone to the US to take part in the Oscars ceremonies accompanied by her uncle, Moideen.
The movie by British director Danny Boyle is a rags-to-riches story set in India and has got 10 Oscar nominations.
Azharuddin's parents, Ismail and Shamim Shaikh, manage to eke out a living from their furniture trade. There is barely enough for a decent meal a day, his neighbour and friend of over 40 years Yakub Abdul Sheikh said.
'We pray to the almighty that the movie does well at the Oscars. Hopefully, that could brighten the future of these children,' he said.
Naazna Umar Shaikh, deserted by her husband last year, also harbours hopes of a better future as her son Ibat, 2, played a bit role in the movie.
'He was only eight months old during the movie shooting and earned Rs.300 ($7) for a day's small role. I did minor jobs on the sets that day and earned another Rs.1,200,' Naazna said as she stoked a fire in a garden to ward off mosquitoes in the evening.
However, the Shiv Sena municipal corporator of the area, Manmohan Chonkar, claimed ignorance of the celebrity children living in his constituency, Ward No. 90. 'I heard something about these children, but I have not made detailed inquiries, so I cannot say much,' he claimed.
He, however, mentioned the name of his banker friend Ganesh Lonkar's daughter Sanvi, who also enacted a role in the movie and has gone to the US.
Sanvi's mother Sharmila Lonkar, a paramedic at Hinduja Hospital, said after the movie the children became friends and met occasionally at various events. 'But so far, they have not visited us,' she said.
Sanvi, 13, loves dancing and was selected for a role after a successful audition test.
There was even a small 'pre-Oscar' celebration for the 20-odd children of Garib Nagar who have played big and small roles in the movie, Naazna said.
'A social worker, Nicholas Almeida, came and gave each child a medal with his or her name engraved on it and certificates. He said this was the 'Indian Oscar'. Our poor children were very thrilled by the gesture,' she said.
M.H. Shaikh, the Samajwadi Party municipal corporator from the adjacent ward, said despite the children's achievement, there has been no official recognition in any manner.
'These people are too poor to buy tickets and watch the movie. I was planning to organise a show of the movie for them at some nearby theatre. However, since the elections are round the corner, I am not aware if this may be possible,' Shaikh said.
Late Friday evening, the parents of many of the children who acted in the movie had assembled to wish bon voyage to the children who left for the US for the Academy Awards function.
'We hope their dreams are fulfilled and they can return home and improve their own lot,' said Naazna and Yakub.
Incidentally, since its release last month, the movie has raked in over $100 million and has already bagged many prestigious awards, among them BAFTA and Golden Globes.
Now all eyes and hopes of Mumbai's slumdwellers are on 'Slumdog Millionaire' - its success at the Oscars may spell a better future, at least for some of them.