Slumdog gang in Hollywood - Time 'to party' for star cast as Oscar countdown begins

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By AMIT ROY in Angeles
  • Published 21.02.09

Los Angeles, Feb. 21: By the time the Oscar ceremony goes live on television at 5pm on Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, dawn will have broken in the slums of Mumbai. Given the time difference, it will, in fact, be 6.30am in India on Monday.

Shortly afterwards, we will know whether A.R. Rahman has done it, and whether Ashok Amritraj’s prediction to The Telegraph — “Slumdog will sweep” — has indeed come to pass.

In 81 years, Oscar history is replete with films that have come with umpteen nominations and left with nothing. Still, that also holds true for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which has 13 nominations to Slumdog’s 10.

For now, ahead of the arrivals on the red carpet, The Telegraph witnessed the comings and goings at the Beverley Hills hotel where many of the Slumdog gang are staying.

Madhur Mittal — he plays Salim, Jamal Malik’s criminal elder brother in the film — looks out from the balcony of his second-floor room and remarks that the green expanse, filled with palm trees and banana, resembles Bandra in Mumbai.

“Only it is much cleaner than Bombay,” he adds hastily. He is in a reflective mood because he is marking his 21st birthday far away from home.

His wish “to party” is soon met for he receives a telephone: “There is a private party tonight for Danny Boyle (Slumdog’s director).”

In the plush lobby of the hotel, there is pre-Oscar activity. Sleek limousines come and go. Flowers arrive. American women assistants with raucous voices talk on their cell phones. A guest wants creases steamed out from his designer tee shirt. A hotel employee pushes a trolley full of gowns into the lift. Perhaps these belong to Freida Pinto and onlookers are getting a sneak preview of what they are not supposed to see.

Then comes the lady herself. Freida, wearing a tight red sweater that would have looked good on Marilyn Monroe as well, breezes in and breezes out just as swiftly.

She looks a trifle exhausted and no wonder because she has been doing “back to back interviews”, she says. She is accompanied by an American man from Fox Searchlight, one of the production companies that has struck gold in the Mumbai slums.

Then Dev Patel wanders into the lobby. There is no mistaking his tall, lanky, fast bowler figure. He seems to have grown six inches since he was last interviewed by The Telegraph at the Soho Hotel in London in December.

He is escorted by an Englishwoman whom he introduces as “my agent”. Dev is slightly apologetic. “I have not brought my mum,” he admits, aware he has promised The Telegraph an interview with her. As compensation, he makes a friendly offer: “Let’s do high fives!” The moment for that might yet come.

Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan have arrived at the hotel but have been whisked out without even getting their keys. In LA, fame has its price.

The experience of being involved in an initially not very promising venture that has become a film that has won award after award --- “I counted 70 or is it 75?” Madhur wonders --- has strengthened the ties of friendship between the young actors.

Without any prompting whatsoever, Madhur is fiercely defensive about Freida, possibly because there have been media reports suggesting she has dumped her Mumbai boyfriend and possibly fiancé of long standing. “Whenever I meet the media I tell them there has been so much about her (private life) in the media that just isn’t true,” begins Madhur.

“There was one report in a Mumbai paper that she was married --- not true. She hasn’t changed. She remains a nice person. I tell my friends that.”

He is happy that most of the child actors from Slumdog have arrived. “In London, we were mobbed during a six-hour stopover at Heathrow. And on the way from the airport they wanted to take me to have my tux fitted but I have brought one from Bombay just in case.”

“The boys will look so cute in their tux,” he says.

What will the girls, Rubina Ali and Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar --- they play the very young and middle Latikas before Freida takes over the role --- wear?

He doesn’t know but is sure they will look “very nice”. Rubina, who has captured the hearts of millions across the world with her performance, got left behind in Mumbai apparently because “her visa did not come through on time”.

“But she is on her way,” Madhur says reassuringly.

The competition Freida receives on the red carpet will not be from the likes of Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz, fabulous though the nominees for best actress and best supporting actress will look, but from Rubina, one suspects.

Confirming the arrival of the child actors, a spokesperson for Fox Searchlight, which picked up the film when it was dropped by Warner Bros, says: “No interviews --- we just want the kids to have a fun time.”

Madhur, who studied at Jai Hind College and looks nothing like the menacing Salim in Slumdog, discloses: “The children are going to Universal Studios in the morning, then perhaps Disney.” He has entertaining titbits to offer from the film. The pond of human excreta that the little Jamal had to wade through on his way to collect Amitabh Bachchan’s autograph was “actually made from peanut butter and chocolate”.

Madhur licks his fingers to make his point.

The discussion turns to Slumdog's Oscar chances. “There is so much pressure,” observes Madhur.