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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