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India probes dispute over 'Slumdog' child star

MUMBAI, India -- Indian police are investigating claims andcounterclaims by the parents of a child star in "SlumdogMillionaire" after a British tabloid alleged the father tried tosell the 9-year-old girl to an undercover reporter.

The accusations further complicated the lives of the families ofthe slum-dwelling child stars, who have come under intense scrutinysince the movie skyrocketed to Oscar-winning fame and grossed morethan $300 million worldwide.

Khurshid Begum, the estranged mother of "Slumdog Millionaire"star Rubina Ali, filed a complaint with Mumbai police on Sundayafter News of the World reported that the father planned to put herup for adoption. The British newspaper said the deal was allegedlyoffered to one of its reporters posing as a sheik from the Mideast.

The newspaper -- owned by News International Ltd., the mainBritish subsidiary of News Corp., which also owns "Slumdog"distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures -- said the father wasdemanding millions of rupees, worth the equivalent of $400,000.

"They should be punished," Begum said after getting into aphysical confrontation with Rubina's stepmother. "No father shoulddare sell his daughter."

Police took the father, Rafiq Qureshi, and Rubina from theirhome in a Mumbai slum to a police station where he was brieflyquestioned.

Speaking to reporters outside the police station Sunday, Qureshidenied the report, saying he had been lured to a fancy Mumbai hotelby someone claiming they were moved by Rubina's story and wanted tohelp her.

"We had gone there to meet them in goodwill," he said. "Butthey have made false allegations about me and tried to frame me."

He said he was promised cash and "were talking of giving moretoo" if he gave up his daughter.

"But I refused," he said.

Qureshi said he told police he believed it could be a plot toregain custody by his ex-wife, who left several years ago, only toreturn and try to play a role in Rubina's life after the film'ssuccess.

"My children are with me, and I could give my life for them,"Qureshi said. "I will never sell them to anybody, no matter howmuch money they offer me."

Police said they were investigating.

"There are claims and counterclaims made by the mothers and thefather," police officer Nishar Tamboli told reporters. "We areprobing the matter."

The newspaper quoted Qureshi as saying that Hollywood was toblame for forcing him to give her up for adoption.

"We've got nothing out of this film," Rafiq Qureshi was quotedas saying. "I have to consider what's best for me, my family andRubina's future."

The children in "Slumdog Millionaire" were chosen with thelocal help of casting director Loveleen Tandan. To give the film arealistic view of the Mumbai slums, she and director Danny Boyledecided only weeks before shooting began to cast local kids whowere not professional actors.

Rubina and young co-star Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail werediscovered on the Mumbai streets by the filmmakers. The film'sadult stars, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, shot to internationalstardom, becoming red-carpet regulars during Hollywood's awardsseason.

Patel, whose only previous credit was the British teen drama"Skins," since landed a role in the fantasy adventure "The LastAirbender" from director M. Night Shyamalan. A model, Pinto madeher movie debut with "Slumdog" and has scored roles in the nextfilms from Woody Allen and Julian Schnabel ("The Diving Bell andthe Butterfly").

The younger stars got a taste of Hollywood glamor, too,attending the Academy Awards and joining the filmmakers on stage asthey accepted the best-picture Oscar for "Slumdog."

Following the success of the rags-to-riches tale, somecriticized the filmmakers for failing to share the wealth withMumbai's millions of slum dwellers. Others accused them ofexploiting two of the child stars, Rubina and Azharuddin, 10, whogrew up in a wretched Mumbai slum.

The filmmakers' initial efforts to help their families werethwarted by media attention, the changing demands of relatives andthe film's runaway success. Sudden fame and relative fortune alsocomplicated relations between the actors and their neighbors.

The filmmakers feared that if they gave the families a lump sum,the money would be squandered or extorted. Instead, they set up atrust fund for the two children that was supposed to provide themwith a good education, adequate housing and social support.

Last week they also announced a donation of $747,500 to acharity devoted to improving the lives of street children inMumbai. Fox Searchlight didn't immediately return telephone callsMonday for comment on the allegations against Rubina's father.


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