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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire Oscar child Rubina's father denies the charges

The plot of Slumdog Millionaire may depict a street child’s life being turned upside down by a huge amount of money but the film’s British makers were determined that reality would not emulate art.

They said that they decided not to shower the child actors from Mumbai’s shantytowns with cash for fear of having “a transformative impact on their lives”.

That ambition was in tatters yesterday when it was alleged that the father of Rubina Ali, one of the film’s stars, had offered the nine-year-old for sale for £200,000 in an illegal adoption deal.

“We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what is best for me, my family and for Rubina’s future,” Rafiq Quereshi allegedly told an undercover reporter from the News of the World, who was posing as a potential buyer from a wealthy Dubai family.

Mr Qureshi reportedly raised an asking price of £50,000 for Rubina to £200,000 at a later meeting.

Justifying the increase, his brother Mohiuddin was quoted as saying: “The child is special now. This is not an ordinary child. This is an Oscar child.”

Mr Quereshi denied the allegations yesterday. His second wife, Munni, who is Rubina’s stepmother, told The Times: “A foreign woman phoned us and offered us money. We turned her down.”

It is not clear from the News of The World article who raised the possibility of payment. The newspaper would only say that its story was “fair, true and accurate”.

One neighbour said he knew of the proposed sale of Rubina. “One and a half crores of rupees \ is such a lot. Anybody here would let their child go to a better home for that sum,” he said.

Slumdog Millionaire, which was made for £15 million, tells the story of a boy from a Mumbai slum who wins the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It has taken £185 million at box offices worldwide and won eight Oscars, but has also been branded “poverty porn” and criticised for the alleged exploitation of its child actors.

Six months after the film opened to rave reviews in the US, Rubina, who played the youngest incarnation of Latika, the leading female character, still lives in Garib Nagar, a slum beside a rail track in north Mumbai.

The interior of her family’s tiny one-room home is painted bubblegum pink and is scrupulously clean. Directly outside, an open sewer oozes and mounds of smouldering rubbish cloud the air.

In ugly scenes there yesterday, Rubina’s biological mother, Khursheed, demanded that the child be removed from her father’s care. The mother and stepmother reportedly ended up fighting.

Mr Quereshi has said Rubina was paid about 150,000 rupees (£2,000) for acting in Slumdog, a sum he now suggests was not enough.

Christian Colson, the film’s British producer, has admitted being wrong-footed by the intense media interest in the child actors. He insists, however, that Rubina and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, another slum child who played a lead part, were paid fairly, and that as soon as they were cast moves were made to safeguard their futures.

The children were found places at an independent school — the first they had ever attended — which specialises in educating disadvantaged youngsters. If they remain in school until they are 18, they will receive a “significant lump sum”. They have also been promised a new home by the film-makers.

“We thought that the parents would be incentivised by long-term benefits to their children. We were wrong,” Mr Colson told The Times this year.

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