Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Mumbai slum hails Millionaire stars

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Slumdog celebrations in Mumbai
Friends of child actors Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail celebrate in Mumbai

"Jai ho!" (Victory!) was the refrain in the congested by-lanes of Garibnagar, the colony where Slumdog Millionaire child actors Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail live.

Neighbours and relatives in the colony, which runs parallel to railway tracks in a western suburb of Mumbai (Bombay), had been wide awake and buzzing from 0400 local time (2330 GMT Sunday) for the Oscar awards ceremony.

Munni Qureshi, Rubina's mother, said she was waiting for her daughter to return from Los Angeles. "I will go to the airport with a band of musicians and greet her. We are so happy for the children."

Farha and Dilshaad, her neighbours, had not eaten since last night - part of a fast in hope of success at the Academy Awards.

"We decided we'd eat only after all the awards are announced. Now we will celebrate and have breakfast. We prayed that Rubina would get success," beamed Dilshaad as she welcomed reporters into her house.

Rubina's friends have learned to dance to numbers like Jai Ho (AR Rahman's Oscar-winning song) and Ringa Ringa, and were happy to repeat their moves for the cameras.

"I can also dance, Rubina is my friend," repeated Muskaan.

Good and lucky

In a tiny 3m by 3m (10-foot by 10-foot) room belonging to her uncle, a large flat TV screen is the only reminder of the recent success tasted by Rubina's family.

Rubina's parents' house is at the end of the lane, where people stream in and out to congratulate them.

We feel happy that two little children who live such difficult lives in Garibnagar have been given such an honour
Muzammil, colony dweller

Mohsin, her cousin, watches the grainy screen intently and looks downward as every nomination with a kissing scene is shown. The women animatedly discuss new clothes for Azhar and Rubina.

Pervez Ahmed, who took Rubina and Azhar to the auditions of Slumdog Millionaire, said the children were very good as well as lucky.

"I have been taking children from these areas for shooting for nearly 20 years and have even worked for big commercial films but this is extraordinary. Even some of the biggest stars have not been able to go to the Oscars."

People went about their morning chores, washing and cleaning outside their hutments, but most still had their televisions tuned to the Oscars. Neighbours insisted the children should pursue their success and continue to act.

Slumdog celebrations in Mumbai
The colony in Mumbai was up very early for the Oscar ceremony

There were conversations about the story of the film (many are yet to watch it), the actual meaning of the word Slumdog (there have been some protests in India that the term is derogatory) and the possibility of improving their lives.

And the media had amassed to hear the tales.

Reporters were everywhere where any details of the children and their families could be taken down.

Some residents complained about the chaotic scenes as journalists ran from house to house, and the odd scuffle ensued.

But still the celebrations continued, as the noise of the rush hour, of trains passing by and of traffic snarls cranked up.

Muzammil, one youngster who works in a nearby textile unit, mused on the rags-to-riches tale.

"Even if all of us worked for 20 years we would not be able to achieve this. We feel happy that two little children who live such difficult lives in Garibnagar have been given such an honour.

"That is why so many people stopped work today - to watch our stars on TV."

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