Working class Indian boy to follow dancing dreams in New York after billionaire funds ballet school place

Yusuf Hamied made his wealth producing and selling cheap generic drugs for the poor

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 07 June 2017 15:18
The teenager is due to start classes in the autumn
The teenager is due to start classes in the autumn

A teenager from a poor background in Mumbai is to study at one of the world’s leading ballet schools after the intervention of an Indian billionaire.

Amir Shah, 15, who has six siblings and whose father works as a welder, was offered a place at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York, if he could collect the money. The teenager and his ballet teacher in Mumbai launched an online fundraising campaign.

Now, it has been announced that a foundation established by an Indian billionaire has stepped forward to meet most of the teenager’s costs. An update on his GoFundMe page said that the Yusuf and Farida Hamied Foundation had offered to pay for his tuition and residence costs.

Yusuf Hamied is the chairman of Cipla

“However, we are still fundraising to make sure Amir will be able to afford classes outside of JKO to keep up his technique when not at the school, English tutoring, dance equipment, as well as the high cost of living in New York,” it said. It said that they were also still trying to collect money to ensure that the teenager’s teacher in Mumbai, Israeli American Yehuda Maor, can visit his protege in the US.

“Amir and Yehuda have overcome all odds to get to this point, and he needs as much support as possible,” it said.

The foundation that has come to the teenager’s assistance was established by 80-year-old Mr Hamied, an Indian scientist and businessman who chairs Cipla, a generic pharmaceuticals company founded by his father in 1935. He is said to have a net worth of $1.45bn (£1.1bn).

Speaking from Mumbai, Mr Hamied told The Independent he had been inspired to donate the money after watching Amir’s video. “Have you seen that video. It’s amazing,” he said. “I saw it and thought, ‘he’s got talent’. I decided to donate. It’s no big deal.”

He added: “He called me two days ago and he thanked me profusely. I hope he does well. I wished him good luck.”

Welder's son from Bombay raising money to attend top NYC ballet school

Mr Hamied, who was educated at Cambridge University, is known within the pharmaceutical world for producing and creating cheap, generic drugs to treat diseases such as Aids.

In 2000, Mr Hamied staggered European Union health ministers and the CEOs of major pharmaceutical multinationals, by proposing to produce generic antiretroviral cocktails for around $800 per person per year, a fraction of the $14,000 then being charged by the multinational firms.

The following year, he announced he was ready to sell the drugs even more cheaply – at about $300 per patient, per year.

It is legal in India to copy a drug designed abroad and sell it in the market, as long as the company can prove that it used a different manufacturing process.

But in October 2003, Mr Hamied secured a major victory when former US president Bill Clinton brokered a deal in which four companies making cheap, generic Aids drugs were permitted to begin supplying to millions of people in developing countries.

One of them was Mr Hamied’s firm, Cipla.

Mr Hamied told the BBC of the deal brokered by the Clinton Foundation: “Generic drug companies, especially from India, have now got respectability, quality and trust. Multinationals have been running us down for years. Now there’s international recognition of our quality and service.”

The teenager has only been studying ballet for two years (Janey Lee)

Amir has said he is thrilled by the prospect of coming to New York.

“I sometimes think if I didn’t have ballet, I would not have anything,” the teenager said in a video posted on his fundraising page. “I didn’t know ballet could take me so far. I didn’t realise I could become a ballet dancer.”

A spokeswoman for Cipla, Pallavi Golar, confirmed that the foundation established by Mr Hamied and his wife, had made the donation to meet the teenager’s costs.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the ballet school, Kelly Ryan, said that the teenager had been accepted for the year-long course after auditioning by video. She said they had been told that a foundation had stepped in to meet his tuition costs. She added: “We’re expecting him to start this fall.”

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