It was a scene straight out of the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. The only difference — instead of actor Amitabh Bachchan coming out of the chopper, it was the slum kids from the film who were returning home. And they got a hero’s welcome fit for the veteran actor himself.
On Thursday morning, as TV vans lined up outside the slums of Azharuddin Ismail and Rubina Ali, who play the youngest avatars of the two lead characters, Salim and Latika, the children from the two slums went on dancing to the tunes of Jai Ho.
After landing at the Santacruz airport, while Azharuddin returned to a hole-ridden yellow plastic sheet held up by bricks, illegally constructed on a government park in Bandra (East), Rubina went back to her tin-walled hut off the railway track.
Just after 1 pm, when Azharuddin’s car pulled up near his slum, the cameramen besieged it, fighting and falling over each other. When the 10-year-old was finally able to push the car door open, he was hauled into the air by the swarming mass and paraded inside his Garib Nagar slum, a garland thrown around him.
His father Mohammed Ismail (65), a migrant from Aurangabad who is suffering from tuberculosis, sat crouched outside the family’s makeshift tent, smoking a beedi, refusing to speak to the media. “I’m ill, so please leave us alone,” he shouted. His wife Shameem (45) gave interviews outside their tent.
After being paraded about, Azharuddin was taken to Sangam Hotel where the manager bolted the door and thousands of onlookers gathered outside. Inside a tiny room, the few journalists who had got in, argued over who could interview him first as an exhausted Azharuddin patiently answered all questions. Soon some cameramen barged in, a fight ensued and the police arrived.
“I am happy he is so famous. He is destined for fame, not everyone is,” said Amina Gaikwad (25), a housewife and a resident of the slum.
“I want to be a hero like Azhar. I want to be Shah Rukh Khan,” said nine-year-old Salman Shaikh.
In Rubina’s slum next to the railway track, goats, dogs and chickens wandered about as a crowd of onlookers and media gathered outside her shanty. When Rubina finally arrived just after 5 pm in a red Mercedes, she got out, perched on her father’s shoulders and waved.