India slum celebrates ‘Slumdog’ Oscar wins

MUMBAI, India — In the narrow lanes behind the Mumbai train tracks, the slum’s first Oscar party turned into a raucous celebration of two hometown heroes, complete with Bollywood dance moves and squeals of joy from old friends.

Every time the big-eyed girl who calls this slum home appeared on TV, her friends gawked, beamed, shouted — and danced.

Rubina Ali, 9, was plucked from the tin roof shack she shares with her parents and six siblings in this squalid Mumbai slum to star in “Slumdog Millionaire,” the darling of this year’s Academy Awards.

Her friend and neighbor, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, was also chosen for the film, and both were flown to Los Angeles to watch “Slumdog” nab eight Academy Awards, including the Oscars’ highest honor: best picture.

Crowds gathered around the few television sets in the slum and it took barely a minute for word of each award to spread through the slum’s winding lanes.

“It seems like happiness is falling from the sky,” said Sohail Qureshi, a neighbor who said he had watched Rubina grow up.

The Bandra slum could not be farther from the Hollywood glitz, stretch limousines and designer dresses of the Oscars.

Azhar lives in a lean-to made of plastic tarpaulins and moldy blankets. Rubina’s home is perched above an ocean of trash. Dirty train tracks and a clogged highway form the slum’s borders.

Hordes of journalists descended on the neighborhood Monday. TV tripods straddled the thin stream of sewage outside Rubina’s home while rows of satellite trucks idled outside a usually sleepy tea stall.

“Normally, no one talks to us and no one comes here, but now everyone is here,” Mohammed Ismail, Azhar’s father, said.

About 65 million Indians — roughly a quarter of the urban population — live in slums, according to government surveys. Health care is often nonexistent, child labor is rampant and inescapable poverty forms the backdrop of everyday life.

But Rubina’s neighbors said they were nothing but happy for the child actors.

“It’s Rubina’s fate,” said Mohammed Muzzammil, 22. “We don’t want anything from her success.”

Rubina’s best friend, Saba Qureshi, wants something, however — lots of stories and pictures from Los Angeles.

“My eyes couldn’t believe that I was seeing Rubina in America,” said Saba, who led her sisters in Bollywood dance numbers throughout the morning. “She looked like an angel.”

“When she comes back,” Saba said, “we will have the biggest party.”

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