February 26, 2009 / 9:57 AM / 10 years ago

"Slumdog" kids feted as heroes after Oscar sweep

Shilpa Jamkhandikar

Young actors from "Slumdog Millionaire" (front row L-R) Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Rubina Ali, Ayush Manesh Khedekar, (back row L-R) Ashotosh Lobo Gajiwala, Tangi Ganesh Lonkar and Tanay Hermant Chheda arrive at the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 22, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - With sweets, flower garlands and hordes of paparazzi, the child stars of “Slumdog Millionaire” were feted like true celebrities in India on Thursday as the nation celebrated the film’s Oscar haul earlier this week.

Gun-totting police and private guards whisked away the six child actors who emerged from Mumbai airport smiling and holding hands, waving to the television crews and photographers that awaited them.

As journalists jostled to get close to the actors, the children were hoisted on their relatives’ shoulders or on top of cars. Some wore bright marigold garlands around their necks.

“It was amazing, America was amazing,” gushed Rubina Ali, 8, who played Latika, the film’s heroine, as a young girl.

Ali was one of several cast members of the film who were flown to Los Angeles to attend the Academy Awards ceremony, in which the rags-to-riches romance won 8 Oscars, including best picture and best director.

“I loved the pizza there. People are so beautiful. I’m happy to be back but I want to go to America again,” she said, barely able to contain her excitement.

At the Garibnagar slum, one of the hundreds of shantytowns in Mumbai that form the backdrop of the film, some 500 people danced to the Oscar-winning score of the movie to fete Azharuddin Ismail, who played the role of Salim, the hero’s brother, as a young boy.

Ismail’s neighbors crowded around his home — just a tarpaulin hovel without even a bed — to listen to the 8-year-old boy talk about his experiences.

“He is looking much nicer than before,” said Asma Rafiq Khan, a 24-year-old neighbor. “He will have changed after going to such grand places.”

The two child actors are to receive new homes from the Indian authorities after the small-budget movie swept the Oscars. Ali currently lives in a tiny hovel in the same rubbish strewn slum near railway tracks where Ismail lives. Open sewers run nearby and neither children’s homes have running water.

There was an outcry after pictures emerged of the child stars living in squalor despite the $15 million movie earning about $100 million since its North American release last November.

But since the Oscars, India’s media has been caught in a patriotic frenzy and politicians have jumped on the bandwagon to praise the Indians involved in the British film.

Most of the children said they had brought back gifts for their family and friends from the United States.

“I bought earrings for my mother and sister,” said Ayush Khedekar, who played the young Jamal, the film’s hero who wins love and fortune on a television game show.

“And I got chocolates for my schoolmates.”

Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy

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