MUMBAI, India – “Slumdog Millionaire” child star Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and his mother moved into their new home Tuesday, leaving behind a corrugated metal slum shanty for four solid walls, doors that lock and an indoor toilet.
“I was shocked when I saw this house,” Azhar, 11, said, before turning on one of his favourite Hindi songs and dancing around the living room. “I want to thank Danny Boyle for giving us this flat.”
Boyle, the director of the Oscar-winning hit, and producer Christian Colson will transfer the US$50,000 one-bedroom apartment to Azhar’s name when he turns 18, provided he finishes school.
Officials from the trust – set up by the filmmakers to secure an education, housing and a living allowance for Azhar and his co-star Rubina Ali, 9 – are actively searching for a new home for Rubina as well.
At the moment, Azhar has several new challenges to ponder – chief among them, what to put on the walls, and how not to forget one’s house keys.
He held up pink and blue “Welcome” posters against the apartment’s cheery yellow walls, considering which might be best – or whether to go with a shining red rendering of Mecca.
The apartment is on the ground floor of a seven storey brown concrete apartment building called “Harmony,” which sits on a quiet cul-de-sac in the Santa Cruz West section of Mumbai, not too far from where Azhar attends school.
The windows look out on a leafy courtyard. Outside are the sounds of birds and the occasional passing train.
Azhar’s mother Shameem Ismail said she is looking forward to their first night in the new apartment.
“God has given me so much,” she said. “We will sleep very well tonight. There is no water leaking, no bad environment, no quarrelling.”
In Garib Nagar (“City of the Poor”), one of Mumbai’s more wretched slums where they used to live, there were only public toilets, and many people used the train tracks or trash piles instead.
“There we have to give two rupees for the bathroom every day,” she said. “My toilet is my own here.”
She and Azhar will share the main room, while Azhar’s brother Irfan Ismail Sheikh, 22, and his wife will sleep on a mattress in the kitchen, she said.
Meanwhile, back in Garib Nagar, Azhar’s father, Mohammed Ismail, sat disconsolately on the hard wooden bed crawling with flies that the family used to share. He will remain here, and visit his son and wife in the new apartment regularly, he said.
He said he’s hoping to get some government land in exchange for the shanty, and prefers to remain near the neighbours, chickens and mucky lanes he has always called home.
Across the way, Faknoree Nisha, 40, said now that the annual monsoon rains have come, she’s struggling to keep her six children dry. She cursed her rotten luck in life. “I’m happy for Azhar but my children acted in the film. They didn’t get any benefit, so I am also sad,” she said. The film employed several children who live in the slum as extras.
Azhar’s mother said she doesn’t want her husband in the new house because he does drugs, but she pledged to return to Garib Nagar for visits.
“That is our memories,” she said, sitting on her new bed in her new living room as a huge smile dawned on her face.