Celebreted child artists of today’s award winning film Slumdog Millionaire: where do they go tomorrow?

Came across this story on NDTV that touched my heart. Couldn’t stop thinking about the question – Where do they go from here?

Shafiq Syed, the child artist who played the lead role ‘Krishna’ in the Oscar Nominated 1988 film Salaam Bombay, a role for which he was given the National Award for Best Child Artist is today an auto driver in Bangalore. Doesn’t it just hit you so hard, the cruel irony? In this 1 min interview with NDTV Shafiq says how he has taken countless rounds of various Bollywood studios and knocked at producer’s doors but he never got a single chance, not one person gave him another chance in Bollywood. They all told him, “Oh you did a great job, Salaam Bombay is a great film” but it ended there. Today, he no longer has the privilege of pursuing a career in films, he have to make ends meet by plying an auto-rickshaw. But he has a dream of someone someday finding his life interesting enough to make a film on it. A story of a rag picker who was picked from the streets, put on a plane, flown across the world to the greatest of places and then thrown back to the same street where he came from.

Salaam Bombay was nominated for and won several international awards including Cannes, BAFTA, Golden Globe, Oscars, Montreal. Just the way today Slumdog Millionaire is getting praised all over the world today. The child stars are taken as far as the Oscars red carpet but where does fate take them when it is all over? I don’t know the background of Shafiq, but as he mentions in the interview, he probably was a rag picker or something similar. The Slumdog Millionaire stars it seems live in the same slum where the film was shot. Their home is made of tarpaulins and blankets in the Behrampada shanty area, where rats crawl around and sewage runs untreated. [Source] Isn’t it unfair for these kids to go to the Disney Land and be back to their slums? But do they have another option? And is anybody to be blamed or is it just their destiny?

Many questions come to mind. First, how come when Aamir Khan makes a Taare Zameen Par he takes several auditions and finally picks one of the students from a Shiamak Davar’s Institute of Performing Arts class but when Danny Boyle or Mira Nair (Producer Director of Salaam Bombay) look for child artists to portray a poor India they pick children straight from the very slums they are showing in the film? Is it because they are low on budget and these kids are cheap labour? Or is it because these kids won’t really have to do much of acting they just have to play themselves and that will make the film more real?

To me it seems to be the former. Because when they make these kinds of reality films they are not really looking for actors, they are looking for subjects. It is not important which actor plays the role because the character in itself is not important, it is only a part of the larger frame, the film that is and whoever plays the role would have to fit in that frame. It’s like when a street photographer takes a candid picture of a beggar and calls it a portrait.

Secondly, just because these children were picked to play a role that was more like portraying their real life anyway should they necessarily cherish a dream of making a career in films? They never meant to be actors in the first place so shouldn’t they rather pursue other careers which are probably more suitable for them or just simply let their fate take them wherever it goes? I mean is it necessary that they would definitely grow up to be good actors?

Its very difficult to answer this question. If you take a quick look at the list of Child Artists who have won the National Award through 1960 to 2007 except for 3 names none would ring a bell. At least to me it didn’t. I have never heard of the various names except for Kamala Hassan, Sachin and Rishi Kapoor. Where did the rest of them go? May be they have made a mark in regional language film industry like Tamil or Bengali and I am unaware, but the larger question is – who decides what dream these children nurture and who ensures that they fulfil their dreams. What does the film industry give back to these young talents which are mostly lost in the mere race for survival in this country.

It is heartening to know that Mira Nair had set up the ‘Salaam Balak Trust’ (Delhi and Mumbai) from the proceeds of the film Salaam Bombay. Let us wait and watch what is Danny Boyle going to do with all the money he has made, 55 million at last count, how much is he going to share with the slumdogs of India.

I think we really need more funds and trusts to be set up with the sole objective of giving opportunities to these young talents so that they can realize their dreams. A career in theater or acting is mostly an upper class privilege in our country. I am not sure how many students from the lower class actually get a chance to go to the National School of Drama or the FTII Pune, moreover why do we have only few such schools set up by the Government.

How often do we see a real life slumdog becoming a millionaire?

Coming back to Shafiq, it is interesting to know that Salaam Balak Trust was actually established to rehabilitate the lives of the child artists in the film who were actual street kids, yet the kid who played the lead role failed to even get another chance.

I am wondering if we bloggers can do something for him? May be give him his 15 minutes of fame online. May be we can all write about him in our blogs so that at least some online content is created, and then we can have a wikipedia entry for him. Does it sound doable? Is anybody with me for this? If not anything we can at least help his story reach to the right ears, may be somebody somewhere would find a plot for a great movie.

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9 comments

  1. #1 How would a movie made on his life help Shafiq?

    #2 Danny Boyle or anybody for that matter is not bound to a charitable cause just because he/she made money out of ‘slumdogs’ as they are being called

    #3 Just as having a qualification does not guarantee one to be a master in the field. Similarly, a ‘superhit’ child artist might just not mature into a great artist later!

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  2. @sangfroid

    #1 He would remain in the pages of history, isn’t that a great self satisfaction. A movie would be made on his life, people would know him imagine how happy he would be with that..

    #2 I didn’t say anybody is bound but people have a moral duty, no?

    #3 How many great artist to we have anyway in the industry? the star sons are all great artists? Question is do these kids even get a chance?

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  3. #1 Anyone would derive immense satisfaction if a movie/book is based on him/her. This does not mean there is a movie/book on everyone.

    #2 Moral responsibility sure exists but ‘Money is evil’ and Boyle or anyone else might choose to let their morals rest.

    #3 The former is highly subjective!
    To answer the latter part – Struggle is a way of life considering the population of our country. For every slot there are thousands of takers.
    On a lighter note, have you watched – ‘Luck by Chance’ ?

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  4. Though Shafiq won an award and hogged the limelight momentarily, It would have been impossible for Shafiq to be a shining star in Bollywood with his below average looks and mediocre acting skills [he might have suited for that role in Salaam Bombay!, but I did not feel he was great in acting there also].

    So it is better the parents and their good wishers tell the kids this reality and also tell

    them to enjoy the momentary fame and the attention they get and to move on in life.. I know

    it is gonna be hard for kids to understand this, but it is enevitable.
    First of all acting in a movie, all that fame and awards is a thing that happened to them.

    That does not mean they should pursue a career in that industry expecting to don varieties of roles…

    It is high time yester year’s Shafiqs, today’s Azharuddins, Rubinas and Pinkys understand the harsh reality and their limitations too..

    Dreaming big is not a crime, but one should also have the knowledge of one’s limitations

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  5. I agree that our heart goes out to these children who have 15-minutes of fame, but the point also remains that how many of these children actually have the talent to make it big, specially when they grow up. The other fact is that how many of these children and their families actually know how to utilize the good fortune that has suddenly come their way. I read somewhere thar Rubina’s carpenter father and housemaid mother have given up working cos they have enough money to last them for sometime. Danny Boyle said in an interview that he has even paid remuneration to the cycle rickshaw-wallas who are supposed to take these children to school. For some fortune comes easily but parental support and intelligent decision making power doesnt come so easily. I also read somewhere abt this girl born in a red light area on whom a documentary was made and she walked the Oscar red carpet because of that docu. But she is again back in business and lives in a mansion while maintaining an elite clientele. For some may be its a matter of choice!

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  6. I found the news snippet abt the girl I mentioned in my prev comment – “Preeti Mukherjee may be a case in point. The Kolkata girl was 16 when she, along with other children, was part of the 2005 Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels. Her brush with stardom didn’t change her life. Like her mother, she’s a prostitute in Sonagachi, Asia’s largest red-light district. The directors kept their word of lifting these children out of their poverty. But Preeti couldn’t break free of her past.

    Today, she’s 20 and says the Oscar moment seems like a fairy tale. ‘‘When the award was announced, my head was swimming, the deafening applause, so many cameras flashing…,’’ she trails off. But she doesn’t regret her life today. ‘‘I have a flat in Salt Lake, a laptop, expensive phones, money. What do I lack?’’

    While many of us ponder on the fate of these starry-eyed children, there is another league of award winners who are forced to live dire lives – national and olympic award winning sportsmen 0 unless if you are a Abhinav Bindra with language and looks that can sell a TV!!!!

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  7. I agree with Aneesha.
    I also feel Danny Boyle is under no Contratual or moral obligation to do charity. He is a business man and he made money. What he does with his money is not our concern. It is easier to expect charitable acts from others when we ourselves would seldom do any charitable act, be it donation, sponsoring a poor, investing time in educating someone, blood donation or pledging organs.
    Also, one hit film can not gurantee anyone any success. A lot depends on Marketing and PR which is a reality no one can deny.
    These children alteast got their share of fame. I sometimes wonder what happens to those kids who win National Bravery award.

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  8. Film industry being an unorganised industry makes it even more difficult to be held acountable for various things. people dont get paid, under paid, exploited, cheated etc etc.
    Govt. needs funding to open more Art related centres. It becomes more difficult for the Govt. to invest in Art when there are more serious problems to deal with and curruption too. What the govt can do may be is encourage more artists exchange and encourage private bodies to come with with such centres for Art.
    Schools and colleges and parents should also encourage children to take up Art as a career option rather than an extra cullicular activity.
    I personally feel that writing blogs is going to do anything great for these children becuase they have already got all the media attention possible. Writing a blog will only attract more traffic for the blogger rather than doing anything constructive for the kids.

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  9. Shashant Shetty · ·

    Hey Sanju, noted a few points

    1. Amir Khan was not making a movie on Dharavi slums but on boy from a middle class family with autism and dyslexia, maybe thats why he didn get the actor from the slums. So the comparison is baseless.

    2. NSD is for upper class people!! I just read that the actor Nawazuddin got his degree from NSD while he was working as a watchman in Delhi. So again this is incorrect.

    3. You claim that kids like Shafiq do not act in movies, they are just themselves so why do we expect them to get ACTING roles?? They might try for movies reality movie made on slums(which is once every decade). Isnt it anyways good for them to be a part of the huge hype and the opportunity to travel, which they would have never achieved themselves. We have to understand that movies is a profit making business so why do we expect producers and directors to do charity and give these guys a role. They dont have any Saleable value.

    4. About the girl caught in the prostitution racket, isnt there any profession between acting and prostitution. It is a personal choice and I dont want to judge anyone on their choice but blaming bollywood for this is nothing less than ridiculous. Every day hundreds of people land in the tinsel town aspiring to be stars and most of them fail. So if these people are exposed to or execute illegal activities of any nature, they cannot blame the film industry.

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