Slumdog children return to heroes' welcome

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The Independent Online

The child stars of Slumdog Millionaire returned to India today to be mobbed by crowds of media, relatives and supporters.

"It was amazing, America was amazing," said a very excited Rubina Ali, eight, who played Latika, the film's heroine, as a young girl. "I loved the pizza there. People are so beautiful. I'm happy to be back but I want to go to America again." Rubina was among six Indian children flown to Los Angeles for the Oscars extravaganza where their film bagged eight awards. There, they had mingled with the biggest names in Hollywood, soaked up the red-carpet treatment and taken a trip to Disneyland. They returned to Mumbai to be met with sweets, flower garlands and hordes of paparazzi. As the journalists pressed to reach the actors, the youngsters were hoisted on their relatives' shoulders or placed on top of cars. Some wore bright marigold garlands andothers were bearing gifts for their friends. Police escorted them home.

At the Garib Nagar slum, one of the hundreds of shanty towns in Mumbai that form the backdrop of the film, 500 people danced to the Oscar-winning film score to welcome Rubina and Azharuddin Ismail, who played Salim, the hero's brother, as a young boy. Azharuddin's neighbours crowded around his home, a shack made from plastic and tarpaulin which does not even have a bed, to hear about the eight-year-old's experiences. "He is looking much nicer," said a neighbour, Asma Rafiq Khan. "He will have changed after going to such grand places."

The two child actors are to get new homes from the Indian authorities. Rubina lives in a tiny shack in the same slum. Open sewers run nearby and neither home has running water.

Initially, many in India were critical of the movie, directed by Danny Boyle, and said it was wrong for a foreign director to "exploit" the country's poverty. But since the film began winning awards, people began to get excited. The Oscars' haul was widely celebrated as an Indian victory.

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