MUMBAI, India, Feb. 23, 2009 — -- Hundreds of people gathered around a tiny television set on a dusty stretch of Garib Nagar slum in Mumbai, India, to watch the Academy Awards early this morning.
They were not disappointed, as every 15 minutes or so the local broadcaster announced in Hindi that "Slumdog Millionaire" had won again … and the crowd of children and young men went crazy.
"Woo-hoo!" they screamed, alternately chanting, cheering and breaking into an impromptu version of "Jai Ho" the theme song of the film.
The movie won eight Oscars in total, including best picture, best director, best cinematography and best adapted screenplay.
The Garib Nagar crowd was particularly enthusiastic because several children from the area, including Rubina Ali, 9, and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, starred in "Slumdog Millionaire," playing the roles of "young Latika" and "young Salim" respectively.
Just 20 feet from the outside television set is Azharuddin's family home. There are no beds and no walls -- just a piece of tarp hung like a tent. Inside are a few kitchen utensils, pots and some blankets for sleeping.
Azharuddin's father suffers from tuberculosis and doesn't work. The thin man could barely stand to answer questions for more than a few moments before sitting back down to rest. Still, he was enthusiastic about his son's role in the film and the success of "Slumdog."
"The whole country is happy about this," he said. "They are very happy that the boy from the slums is a now a star. I'm also very happy."
Down the street, along the train tracks and past a landfill is the home of Rubina. Her mother, Munni Qureshi, watched the Oscars in a pink-painted room which was no bigger than 12-by-12 feet. She quietly sat on the floor, watching the awards ceremony while answering reporters' questions. She said she never imagined her daughter would become a big star.
"It's not just important for me, it's important for the whole country," she said.
'Slumdog' Producers to Help Pay for Better Schools
Rubina's father said that when the young girl returns to Mumbai later this week, she will attend a better school, as will Azharuddin, paid for by the movie's producers.
Rubina's father said the family will likely be moving into a new home, too, also funded by the producers.
Across the tiny alleyway, Rubina's extended family and friends were also watching the Academy Awards. They offered a visitor a red plastic chair while they sat on the floor. Baby goats darted around the room, climbing onto legs, bags and whatever was in their way.
Outside in the slum, the trains hummed along the tracks and the traffic was as congested as always, but on this particular day, the slumdwellers were winners and the world was watching.