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'Slumdog' stars to perform for charity in HK

THE child stars of the Oscar-winning movie "Slumdog Millionaire" traded the shanties of Mumbai for Hong Kong's skyscrapers yesterday as they arrived to take part in a charity fundraising performance.

Already media-savvy from intense coverage after the film's success, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail patiently waved and posed for press photographers as they stepped into the arrival hall at Hong Kong's international airport.

A guardian traveling with the children shielded them from interviews, but nine-year-old Ayush - whose character in the movie famously jumps down from an outhouse so he can rush to an Indian film star to get his autograph - said he wanted to visit Hong Kong Disneyland.

The three stars are due to sing and dance at a live broadcast today to raise funds for Hong Kong charity The Community Chest and stage performances at two shopping malls tomorrow.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is about an orphan from the shantytowns of Mumbai who becomes the champion of the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and reunites with his childhood love.

British director Danny Boyle cast real-life children from Mumbai's slums in the movie, including Azhar and 10-year-old Rubina. Ayush did not grow up in the slums.

Some critics accused the filmmakers of exploiting Azhar and Rubina, and efforts to improve their living conditions have been complicated by the changing demands of their families and jealousy from their neighbors.

Fearing that a lump-sum payment would be squandered, the filmmakers set up a trust fund for the two children that aims to provide them with a good education, housing and social support. They also donated US$747,500 to a charity devoted to improving the lives of Mumbai street children.

The filmmakers and Indian government officials have also promised them new homes to replace their shanties that were destroyed as part of a city slum-clearing campaign.

The Community Chest's Louie Tong said the charity, which provides grants to a wide range of community projects, was covering the children's travel and accommodation but was only paying them a small honorarium for their performances.

"Slumdog Millionaire" won eight Oscars in February - including best picture and best director for Boyle - and made more than US$350 million worldwide.


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