Under the burning afternoon sun, the ground beneath his feet caked with mud and gritty with rubble, Mohammed Ismail hugged his 10-year-old son and told the assembled photographers: “Abhi click karo na photo. (Take the pictures now.)” On their right was their home: a yellow canvas sheet, tied together with old curtains, propped up with sticks and weighed down with stones.
This was no ordinary photo-op on the wrong side of the tracks in the slum of Garib Nagar in Bandra (E). The 45-year-old’s son Azhar is the boy who played the young Salim in the Oscar-sweeping film, Slumdog Millionaire.
Two days after returning from the red-carpet triumph in Los Angeles, Azhar and his father are at the centre of a controversy. On Friday, Ismail had slapped Azhar for refusing to give an interview to waiting reporters.
“Tu mera laadla hai, tu jaanta hain na ki main tumse itna pyaar karta hoon (You are the apple of my eye, you know how much I love you),” Ismail told his son for the benefit of reporters.
His mother, Shamim Ismail, told him that this is his life now. “I don’t blame him for wanting all the luxury,” she said. “There he ate well, lived well and it was all paid for.”
Azhar had been paid Rs 1.2 lakh for the movie, but it has all been spent. “We have only Rs 5,000 left and my husband is too ill to earn,” Shamim said.
Garib Nagar’s inhabitants, too used to living from day to day, found nothing odd in this. Neither did they think it was wrong for Ismail to have hit his son. Rather, they found it annoying when the just-returned stars put on airs.
“These children have acquired an attitude after they have come from the US. A father is a father and no statue can change that,” said Jamila Qureshi (56), grandmother of Rubina, who played young Latika in the movie. “He can hit his child to discipline him.”
“Look at my granddaughter. She has not even bothered to meet me since she has come back. I was the one who brought her up,” Jamila said.
On her return, 9-year-old Rubina found that her mother — who had left her father — wanting to reclaim her. Her father and stepmother refused to yield.