Trustee for ’Slumdog’ kids says poor school attendance jeopardizes trust fund

The two child stars of ’Slumdog Millionaire’ are at risk of losing their monthly stipend and their trust fund if they don’t start attending school, a trustee for the fund said Thursday.

New York-based Lebanese body builder George Farah

MUMBAI, India — The two child stars of ’Slumdog Millionaire’ are at risk of losing their monthly stipend and their trust fund if they don’t start attending school, a trustee for the fund said Thursday.

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 11, and Rubina Ali, 10, shot to fame after starring in the Oscar-winning movie.

But these days, Azhar is only showing up at school 37 per cent of the time and Rubina has only a 27 per cent attendance rate at her school, the trustee said.

“It’s pathetic,” said Noshir Dadrawala, who helps administer the Jai Ho trust established by the filmmakers to provide an education, living allowance and housing for the young stars, who both grew up in Mumbai’s real-life shantytowns.

Azhar played the role of the young Salim, the main character whose childhood in Mumbai’s slums helps him win fortune and love through a TV quiz show as an adult. Rubina played the role of female lead Latika, as a child.

Dadrawala blamed the children’s busy schedule for their chronic truancy.

“They are constantly going to Paris and Cochin and Chennai,” he said. “That’s fine, but go over the weekend, not at the sacrifice of school.”

The children’s parents said the absences were due to deaths in the family and other problems and promised to get the kids to school from now on.

The children attended a tea party at a Mumbai hotel Thursday afternoon. A friend of the family said it was a school holiday.

“Slumdog” director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson said in a statement that the children’s families “need to honour their part of the bargain.”

“We are disappointed that Azhar and Rubina’s school attendance remains patchy. We have urged both families to honour their commitment to ensure regular school attendance,” they said. The filmmakers were in Mumbai to discuss future film projects and charity works.

Dadrawala said the trust decided that if the children do not get their attendance above 70 per cent they will lose their monthly stipend of about $120. If they fail to graduate, they will forfeit a lump sum payment set aside by the filmmakers to help the children, who grew up in one of Mumbai’s more wretched slums, get a start in life.

The filmmakers have declined to reveal the amount in the trust for fear of exposing the families to exploitation.

Azhar’s mother, Shameen Ismail, said her son had been truant over the past two months because he was inconsolable after his father died in September from tuberculosis.

“He would cry often, so I kept him home from school for a while,” she said.

She promised his attendance would improve.

“As long as I’m alive, I will make sure my son gets an education,” she said.

Rubina’s father, Rafiq Qureshi, said the girl was not in school because her slum shanty was destroyed and she was cut on the leg by a piece of glass.

“It will not happen next time,” he said.

In July, Azhar moved out of a metal shack in the slums and into a $50,000 one-bedroom apartment that the filmmakers bought for his family in Mumbai.

Azhar’s father remained in the slum because, his mother said, he did drugs and she didn’t not want him in the new home.

The trust was also searching for a house for Rubina’s family, but her father said the budget was not enough to cover the cost and he was hoping the state government could make up the difference.

The new homes are to be transferred into the children’s names after they turn 18 provided they graduate high school.

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