Slum Life Continues for Two 'Slumdog Millionaire' Stars

Parents rail against director Danny Boyle, who says kids were paid fairly.

January 28, 2009, 6:47 PM

Jan. 30, 2009 — -- The makers of the hit film "Slumdog Millionaire" -- nominated for 10 Academy Awards -- may be soaking up the glamorous life, but two young actors in the movie still are living the slum life depicted in the movie.

Families of Azharuddin Ismail, who was plucked from the slums to play the younger version of Salim, told ABC News they are worse off than they were before the film became a hit and have not benefited from the success the movie has enjoyed. Families of Rubina Ali, who plays the young Latika, have lodged similar complaints in the media against the filmmakers.

Ismail lives under a plastic sheet by a roadside, and his father, who has tuberculosis, is in a hospital nearly 10 miles away.

In an interview with ABC News, the angry Mohammad Ismail railed at filmmakers for ignoring his family's plight despite the huge success of the movie.

"What is the use of the producer saying that 25 lakh rupees (approximately $51,000) has been kept in a trust for my son's education 'til the age of 18? When the producers are making millions of dollars, why can't they help us have a better life by helping us buy some small house so we can live decently?" argued Ismail, who says he is in the last stage of his illness and cannot afford treatment.

In an interview with ABC News, director Danny Boyle defended the filmmakers' decision to not take the children and their families out of the slums, dubbing it as a "big moral decision."

"We made a decision to let them remain in their communities because they're very complex communities, and although they look very poor ... they are extraordinarily resilient communities, as well, which do self support in a way we couldn't," Boyle said. "We can't do that because, in the end, the film disappears after a while, as well. ... You have to try and put in place a plan that will protect and benefit the children in the long term, in the end."

The Golden Globe winner said the trust, which is set up to be released when the children turn 18, is a "carrot to try to keep them in school for as long as possible."

But the elder Ismail said he's not sure if his son will even stay in school for that long and complete his education because of their poor living conditions.

"These are bad surroundings," he said. "We only have a plastic sheet to cover our head -- no light, no sanitation. It is absolutely unhygienic."

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, Ali was paid $700 for a year's work and Ismail received a mere $2,300.

But Boyle said the figures quoted in the press are "nonsense," adding that the children were paid well and that filmmakers did not want to reveal the kids' salaries for their own safety.

"We don't want to reveal exact figures about what's in the trust fund, what's in the bank account for them for when they leave school, because it will make them vulnerable and a target, really," Boyle said. "But it is substantial, and they will hopefully gain benefit from the film long after the film has disappeared and long after the media who are chasing them at the moment, sadly, have lost interest in the film."

He added that the filmmakers convinced the distributors of "Slumdog Millionaire" to create another fund to support organizations in Mumbai that work with street children.

Another recent notable case of controversy surrounding child actors in the developing world involved Khalid Hosseini's "Kite Runner." A rape scene in that film prompted backlash from Afghans toward the family of the child who played the victim.

Listen to ABC News' podcast with Danny Boyle.

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