'Slumdog' star writes memoir – at the age of nine

Rubina Ali, one of the young stars of the Oscar-winning film, is making publishing history with an account of her unexpected rise to fame
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The Independent Culture

She was the young star of the hottest film of last year and only recently performed alongside Nicole Kidman. At nine years old, Rubina Ali, who was plucked from a Mumbai slum to act in the multi-Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, has already chalked up more experiences than most. Nevertheless, it is hard to know how any child her age could "write" a book about her life. Yet in Slumgirl Dreaming, with which she will make publishing history next week by becoming the youngest person ever to pen a memoir, she does just that.

In it, Rubina – who played the young Latika – describes her early years of poverty; her excitement at visiting America, a country she had never even heard of; and her struggle to readjust after experiencing the wealth and unreality of Hollywood.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday this weekend, Rubina revealed how her life has been turned upside down by her unexpected fame. Instead of playing outside, she now shelters in her uncle's modest home in Garib Nagar – "the area of the poor" – where she still lives. Otherwise, "I'll get dirty," she says. Now rather than relieve herself near the railway tracks with the rest of the slum kids, she walks 10 minutes and spends two rupees to use a clean toilet.

It is a world away from her description of the US. "The strangest thing was that I didn't see anyone walking: everyone seemed to have a car. It looked empty." She tells how she could not sleep in the giant bed of her hotel room and instead snuggled up with her co-star Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and his mother. "Even with the three of us, we felt scared in that enormous room," she said.

Since the heady Oscar night Rubina attended in Los Angeles, she has found her slum life "harder and harder", pointing to the rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes and general squalor as being the toughest to bear after tasting the luxury of a Hollywood five-star hotel with bathrooms larger than her slum hut and rooms "big enough to cycle around in".

With the publication of Slumgirl Dreaming, Rubina trumps even the Disney superstar Miley Cyrus by releasing her memoirs so young. Joel Rickett, editorial director of the Penguin imprint Viking, warned: "Writing young doesn't necessarily make for the best book. Sometimes, especially in sport and business, you need a certain level of achievement before you write about what you've done."

The nine-year-old, who many claim was exploited, earning just £500 for her role, is still waiting on a promise from the film's director, Danny Boyle, that he will buy her somewhere to live, "with cement walls, windows, somewhere to put my things and a proper toilet", after her slum home was torn down by the Mumbai authorities. For now, she sleeps in her stepmother's home but spends her days at her uncle's hut, where she keeps the TV she bought plus her treasured dresses including the blue one she wore on Oscar night "because they have a cupboard".

Rubina said she found Nicole Kidman "strange" when they met to shoot a soft drink advert because the milky-skinned actress refused to leave her room during the day, preferring to hide from the heat and the paparazzi. Yet it is precisely such behaviour that Rubina now finds herself mimicking.

She has little time for journalists and talks about how her father was set up by the News of the World in a sting that claimed Rafiq Qureshi was prepared to sell his daughter. The story prompted a fight between her father and her biological mother, who abandoned Rubina at birth but recently reappeared . "As for my biological mother, I hate her more than ever. I am not for sale, and whoever claims I am is a liar," she said.

Divya Dugar, a journalist who spent 10 weeks with Rubina helping to co-write Slumgirl Dreaming, said the young star wanted to move out of the slum and to study. "Learning English is her key to success," Dugar said. Rubina's school fees are paid for out of a trust fund set up by Danny Boyle and Cloud Nine Films.

The young author was paid an undisclosed sum up front for her story by Black Swan, the publishers, and will share the royalties with Médicins du Monde, a French charity setting up local healthcare projects for new mothers and children in Mumbai.

So much, so young

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Age at publication: 23

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Billie Piper Growing Pains

Age at publication: 24

Claim to fame: Pop singer turned actress who before her star turn as Rose in Doctor Who had been best known for her ill-fated marriage to Chris Evans

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