Fenil and Bollywood

Father of Slumdog Millionaire star dies

Posted on: September 5, 2009

slumMohammed Ismail, left, holds the hand of his son, Azhar, 10 – a star of Slumdog Millionaire – and his wife Shamim in the flat bought for them by the filmmakers. The picture was taken the day before his death Photograph: Gethin Chamberlain

The father of Slumdog Millionaire child star Azhar Ismail has died of tuberculosis at the family’s home in Mumbai.

Mohammed Ismail’s premature death will inevitably fuel the controversy surrounding the fate of the slum children who appeared in the movie, which has grossed more than £86m worldwide since its release.

He died today in the new flat bought for the family by the trust set up by director Danny Boyle. Azhar, 10, was at school at the time and did not learn of the death until he returned home in the early evening.

In the movie Azhar played the part of Salim, the brother of the film’s lead character. In February he travelled to Los Angeles for the Oscars ceremony, where the film picked up eight awards, and on his return to the slum with co-star Rubina Ali he was greeted by cheering crowds.

But the failure of the children to subsequently escape the slum life has been the subject of controversy both within India and abroad.

Ismail found himself at the centre of a media storm after he was photographed slapping Azhar for refusing to talk to journalists shortly after the Oscar ceremony.

Azhar later said that the image portrayed of his father was undeserved. “I was being naughty and he slapped me like any father would. I was the one who was wrong,” he said.

Ismail refused to abandon his dependence on alcohol – something he shared with a large number of men in the slum – despite the media spotlight on his life. But he was clearly very proud of his son’s success. “The fact that a poor man’s child has made such a name for himself, that’s what makes me most happy,” he told journalists.

Until two months ago the whole family still lived in the illegal Garib Nagar slum in the Bandra area of the city. A makeshift shelter that was their home until the film propelled them into the public eye was replaced by a slightly more substantial tin sheet structure built with the help of neighbours, but that was later torn down by the city council.

Ismail had been ill for some time and had twice been admitted to a tuberculosis hospital in Mumbai after being turned away by another hospital in the city, which refused to admit him in case he infected other patients.

His wife said he had been unhappy with the treatment he received in the hospital and had discharged himself.

Tuberculosis is now rare in the UK but remains a major killer in India, where about 1,000 people die of the disease every day. Most of the £1,725 Azhar earned for appearing in the movie was spent on treating his father’s illness.

When The Guardian visited the family in the flat yesterday, it was clear that Ismail’s situation was critical. He lay on the floor of the one-bedroom flat, wrapped in a bundle of blankets, his body wasted, no longer even able to stand up. Asked what would become of him, he said it was in the hands of Allah.

Dinesh Dubey, a family friend who witnessed his death, said it was peaceful.

“He was waiting for me to arrive, I think,” he said. “When I got there his clothes were still moving and his hands were shaking and, after a couple of minutes, there was no more movement.”

Until a few days ago Ismail had still been living in the slum where Azhar was born and brought up. He had stayed on when his wife and son moved into the new flat a short distance away from the slum, because he said that he needed to be there to continue his business selling scrap wood and he was reluctant to move away from his friends.

Unable to understand why the family had not been immediately rehoused when the film became a box-office success, he had regularly criticised Celador films, which made the movie, for abandoning them to their fate.

But the company maintained that it was doing everything it could to help the families of the child stars and had set up the Jai Ho Trust to take care of their welfare and to find them new accommodation.

The new apartment will be transferred into Azhar’s name when he reaches 18 and he is expected to stay on there with his mother. They share the flat with Azhar’s older brother and his wife.

GUARDIAN.CO.UK (September 4, 2009)

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