Bollywood-style celebrations for "Slumdog" Oscar haul

MUMBAI Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:11pm GMT

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Bollywood met Hollywood for real on Monday as Mumbai slum dwellers celebrated the triumph of "Slumdog Millionaire," clapping, whooping and dancing like Indian film stars after the rags-to-riches romance swept Oscar gold.

"Slumdog," an often dark but ultimately hopeful tale about a poor Indian boy who competes for love and money on a TV game show, won eight awards including best picture and best director.

The film, shot in the teeming shantytowns of Mumbai, cast several children who live in the city's Garib Nagar slum, and who were flown to Los Angeles to attend the awards ceremony.

"I'm so happy that my daughter has won this award and I could see her on stage with such big stars," said Muni Qureshi, mother of 8-year-old Rubina Ali, who played the leading lady, Latika, as a young child.

Ali and the rest of her family live in a tiny, ramshackle home with no running water.

Friends and relatives packed into the one-room house, which is already crowded by a bed and a cupboard, to watch the ceremony on the family's only visible sign of wealth -- a large flat-screen television.

Nearby, neighbours also gathered outside the makeshift home of Azharuddin Ismail, who played the young Salim in the film. His shack is covered only in tarpaulin, and a small television was placed on a stool in the street for people to watch the awards.

"The fact that a poor man's child has made such a name for himself, that's what makes me most happy," his father Mohammed Ismail said.

OSCAR GLORY, CONTROVERSY

But "Slumdog Millionaire" has generated controversy in India, where some people find its name, and depiction of poverty, insulting.

Ali's mother Qureshi, however, defended the film, saying it gave her daughter a chance to go on the trip of a lifetime.

"I know that this film has been criticised for showcasing poverty. But it has also meant that a girl from the slums of Mumbai who could not even imagine that she would go abroad has reached the Oscars, so how can that be bad?" she said.

In the slums, the crowds celebrated in earnest after the film was named best picture, a rags-to-riches triumph for a movie that almost wasn't released.

Indian television interrupted regular programming to flash news of the "Slumdog" Oscar wins, replaying interviews with relatives of the winners.

"Slumdog Oscar Glory," CNN-IBN television flashed for several hours across its screens.

For many Indians, the Oscars for best original score and best original song by famous Indian composer A.R. Rahman were the highlights of the ceremony.

"The winners have done India proud," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.

But in the Mumbai slums, one local resident was sceptical about the celebrations.

"All this hype is good for Bollywood. I don't think it is justified for people like us who have to work hard just to make ends meet," said Tahir Khan.

"I don't know whether it is of any use for us."

Other slum dwellers feared the awards would make the film's child stars unapproachable.

"I know that she has achieved a lot and she has gone to the Oscars, but I think she has become a big girl now," said eight-year-old Muskaan, who is Rubina's friend and neighbour.

"I don't think she will play with me when she comes back."

(Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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