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 attend school more regularly, 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.
Azhar played the hero's brother, Salim, while Rubina was cast as the young Latika, who grows up to become his love interest.
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, 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.
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 them to school from now on.
"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 work.
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 US$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 did 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 to the children's names after they turn 18 provided they graduate from high school.