The rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Azhar

After falling on hard times, Azharuddin Ismail, who played a young Salim in Slumdog Millionaire, sold off the flat he was given by the Jai Ho Trust to move into a 10X10 ft room

| Satish Malavade and Lata Mishra

In 2008, child actor Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail was basking in the success of Danny Boyle’s blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire. The 10-year-old rubbed shoulders with the who’s who of Hollywood at the Academy Awards held the next year, in which the movie won eight Oscars, including Best Picture. The same year, Azhar, who used to live in the Garib Nagar slums in Bandra, and his co-star Rubina, were given flats by the Jai Ho trust, named after the AR Rahman chartbuster from the movie.

Cut to 12 years later – Azhar, now 21, has lost his fame and fortune and has been forced to go back to living in the slums. Six months ago, Azhar sold the 250-sq-ft flat he was given in Anurag Plaza, Santacruz West, for Rs 49 lakh and went back to living in a slum in Naupada area in Bandra East, very close to the Garib Nagar slums where Danny Boyle first spotted him.

Slum life did not suit Azhar the second time around. As he often fell ill, his mother took him to their village in Jalna to recuperate, where he has been living for the past couple of months.

Speaking to Mirror from his village, Azhar said, “The stardom is over. Now I have to earn to run the family. Mumbai is crowded and polluted. I was born in a slum but never wanted to go back there.” Azhar, who lost his father to tuberculosis a year after the movie released, added that he sold the flat in Santacruz as the family was facing financial troubles.

Azhar was selected among 300 slum kids to play the role of the youngest version of Salim, brother of the protagonist Jamal Malik. Boyle and the film’s producer Christian Colson, had formed the Jai Ho charitable trust to provide a better life and education to child stars Azhar and Rubina, both of whom lived in the Garib Nagar slums when they were selected for the roles. In July 2009, Azharuddin shifted to his new flat with his mother. The flat, which was in the custody of the Trust, was transferred in Azhar’s name after he turned 18. “Uncle Danny Boyle and Jai Ho trust have done a lot for us. We will be always grateful to them,” said Azhar.

Speaking on the financial troubles they were facing, Azhar’s mother Shameem said, “After Azhar turned 18, the Trust stopped paying monthly expenses which was around Rs 9,000 a month. It then became very difficult for us to run the household.” She also said that Azhar was not interested in studies and decided to start a small business but that too did not work. He also fell in bad company and started doing drugs, she said.

“He would fall ill often. Since the past three years I was struggling, I have spent a lot on his treatment and we had no option but to sell the house to deal with the situation,” she said.

After selling the house, Shameem and Azhar moved to a 10X10 ft room in a three-storey structure in Naupada which they share with five other people – Azhar’s sister, her husband and their three children.

The filthy conditions of the neighbourhood and the overcrowded living situation did not suit Azhar, and he fell ill many times. Shameem then decided to take him to their village in Jalna. “I would like to request Danny Boyle to help my child, he needs support and motivation,” she added.

Nirja Mattoo, one of the trustees of Jai Ho, said that after Azhar and Rubina turned 18, the houses were officially handed over to them and the Trust was closed. “Azharuddin wanted to start his own business and for financial support they wanted to sell the house. He is an adult now and I hope he will do well in the future,” she said.

The ground floor flat in Anurag Plaza, Santacruz West

The 10X10 room in Naupada, Bandra East

Rubina Ali Qureshi, a make-up artist

Rubina Ali Qureshi, who played a young Latika in the film, has also moved out of the house she was given in Royal Court building Bandra by the Jai Ho Trust but hasn’t sold it. The 20-year-old, who is a first-year BA student, has moved with her mother Khurshid to Nallasopara while her father lives in the Bandra flat with her step-mom Munni and their five children.

“I lived in the house for four years, but it became very difficult to live in the flat with eight people. So I moved out,” said Rubina. She added that even though she wants to sell the house and buy a bigger house in Nallasopara, she does not want to displace her father who is suffering from tuberculosis. “Where will he go in this condition? Right now, I just want to focus on my career,” she said. Rubina is also studying fashion design and doing a make-up course. She has also started working part-time at a make-up studio.

“Uncle Danny Boyle has done a lot for me. I was staying in a slum. I completed my education thanks to him and the Jai Ho trust, who have always guided me. Though the Trust has officially closed now, they are still in touch with me and keep helping in whatever way they can,” she said.

Nirja Mattoo of the Jai Ho Trust is happy with the way Rubina has shaped her life. “Though the trust is closed, we will always be there for any help she requires in the future. I am glad she is doing well and charting a bright future,” she said.

courtesy Mumbai Mirror