The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bollywood helping hand for rag pickers
- Actors as counsellors

New Delhi, Sept. 3: Azizur Rehman, with a metal chain dangling round his neck, loves imitating Sanjay Dutt from Munnabhai MBBS.

Living on the streets and picking up what others drop, the 14-year-old rag picker works in a market housing the PVR Priya, one of the country’s largest cinema halls. He says he’s learnt a lot from Bollywood but unfortunately, that includes taking drugs, smoking and drinking.

Now, Azizur and about 50 other street children who earn a livelihood shining shoes and picking garbage in movie halls, are going to be helped out of these habits — by Bollywood.

The country’s largest cinema chain, the Priya Village Roadshow or PVR, will help educate the children in an attempt to use Bollywood’s charm to get them to quit smoking and drugs.

With 70 screens countrywide, the company says it is using its links throughout India’s film fraternity to get popular personalities to come and talk to the children.

“We have spoken to top directors and movie stars and the response has been very encouraging,” said Deepa Menon, head of PVR’s corporate social responsibility section.

For instance, movie stars who come for premieres to the theatre will be asked to interact with the children, said Menon.

“The real charm for the children is in the thought that they will meet their heroes in real life,” she added.

The children will also be shown movies that have “good social and moral content.”

“The first Munnabhai movie, for instance, has been cleared by the government to be shown in schools, because of the values of humanity it teaches. We will show them the sequel, Lagey Raho Munnabhai, too,” said Menon.

Starting out with children like Azizur, who work around the cinema hall in south Delhi’s plush Vasant Vihar, PVR said it will consider expanding to other places.

Menon said chief minister Sheila Dikshit has shown personal interest in the project. The Delhi government is providing public toilets, a park for the children to play and part of the funding. Dikshit had also watched a children’s movie, Blue Umbrella, with the young “students”.

Almost all the children, aged between 5 and 18, said they use whitener fluids as intoxicants. “People also give them free bidis to do work for them,” said Jagdish, a teacher from Katha, an NGO hired by PVR for teaching the children.

The children said the time spent studying does not interfere with their work. “There is plenty of time in the day to collect the garbage,” said Imran, 17, flipping through the pages of his Hindi book.

Most of the children, like Azizur, sleep on pavements. The slum where their parents stay, they said, is just too uninviting.

“Our parents are also mostly rag pickers and we support them with our work. But we want to study and learn so that we can live lives like other people we see in movies,” said Imran, who was born in Calcutta.

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