Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail is an Indian child actor, who played the youngest version of Salim Malik in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008), for which he won a Screen Actors Guild Award. Following the film's success, he has been cast in the upcoming Bollywood film Kal Kisne Dekha (2009).

Like his on-screen character, Azaruddin comes from one of the slums of Mumbai, living in the Garib Nagar slum near Bandra station. According to the The Daily Telegraph, "his family's illegal hut was demolished by the local authorities and he now sleeps under a sheet of plastic tarpaulin with his father, who suffers from tuberculosis."

His casting in Slumdog Millionaire proved controversial with the producers admitting they debated whether to use real slum kids in the film fearing it would distort their lives too much. Director Danny Boyle justified the casting saying: "These people have so much prejudice against them, why should we be prejudiced against them as well?"

Critics have claimed Azharuddin and his co-star Rubina Ali, had been underpaid for their part in the film, something disputed by the film's producer saying the actors had been paid the equivalent of a monthly salary payment for the production company's senior staff in Britain. A trust fund has been set up for the children which will be released to them when they turn eighteen, provided they continue in education until this time.

Both Azharuddin and Rubina attended the 81st Academy Awards on 22 February 2009, along with all of the other actors that played Salim, Jamal and Latika. Azharuddin was accompanied by his mother Shameem Ismail, while Rubina was accompanied by her uncle. This was his first journey outside of Mumbai.

Following the success of Slumdog Millionaire at the 2009 Academy Awards the Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority have recommended the children be rehoused, with an official saying the children had "brought laurels to the country" and deserved to be rewarded. On February 25, 2009, the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority announced that Azharuddin as well as Rubina would be given "free houses" so that they would no longer have to live in the Mumbai slum of Garib Nagar.

In March 2009, Azharuddun was cast in the upcoming Bollywood film Kal Kisne Dekha (2009), alongside his Slumdog Millionaire co-star Rubina Ali. The film is being directed by Vivek Sharma and will feature the Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan, Rishi Kapoor and Juhi Chawla in cameo roles.

According to the UK newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, Azharuddin Ismail was paid £1,700 during filming for a month's work on the film. A Fox Searchlight spokesman responded that for their one-month work on the film, he was paid three times the amount of an average annual salary for an adult living in their neighborhood.

On 26 January 2009, Danny Boyle (director) and Christian Colson (producer) released a written statement saying that they had "paid painstaking and considered attention to how Azhar and Rubina's involvement in the film could be of lasting benefit to them over and above the payment they received for their work". Boyle and Colson have stated that they have "set up trust funds for Rubina and Azharuddin and paid for their education," although the exact amount of the trust funds is not known. This has also been met with criticism as there is question as to how children growing up in the slums have any expectation of being able to attend higher education, making the trust fund potentially useless.

Boyle has explained that, "We don't want to reveal exact figures about what's in the trust fund, what's in the bank account for them for when they leave school because it will make them vulnerable and a target really but it is substantial, and they will hopefully gain benefit from the film long after the film has disappeared and long after the media who are chasing them at the moment sadly have lost interest in the film and that's been our approach throughout and I think it's the right approach."

According to The Economic Times, Azharuddin will have £17,500 pounds put into a trust fund which he will get, plus interest, when he is 18. His father has been quoted as saying "My son has taken on the world and won. I am so proud of him but I want more money. They promised me a new house but it hasn't happened. I'm still in the slum. I want the money now, it is of no use later. Mr Boyle should take care of my son."

Following his return home from the Oscars, there was more controversy surrounding Azharuddin after his father, Ismail Mohammed, reportedly slapped him for refusing to be interviewed by a foreign journalist because he was tired. According to their neighbour, Yakub Abdul Sheikh, when "Azharuddin refused to oblige, he slapped him, but later was full of remorse".

Slum home demolished
In May 2009, it was reported that local authorities had demolished his family's makeshift shelter, and that police had forced him out of it after hitting him with a bamboo stick. Authorities stated that "he and other families were squatting on land that was owned by the government". After the demolition, he described himself and his family as "homeless, we have nowhere to go".
Buy Movie Tickets