I’d heard of Rubina Ali in my earlier visits to the Gharib Nagar shanty colony outside Mumbai’s suburban Bandra station but had never had the opportunity to meet her. It took a raging fire through the colony to finally bring me face-to-face with the child star of the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire”.
On Friday night, after a long day out in the field covering various stories, I was finally on my way home. Suddenly I got a call from a friend about a major fire in the slums close to Bandra railway station in suburban Mumbai. I immediately called my colleague, Mumbai-based Reuters photographer Vivek Prakash, who lives quite close to where the fire had broken out. While Vivek rushed to the spot, I reached there shortly after. An inferno was burning in place of the small fire I’d imagined it to be.
I had spent several afternoons roaming around in these slums that were now burning. The fire had engulfed several hundred shanties, as the residents watched helplessly their lives’ savings go up in flames.
The crowd had turned agitated and hostile. The media was at the receiving end of their anger against the police and fire personnel who they accused of reaching the site too late. Luckily, I spotted one of my contacts who helped me get closer to the slums, while Vivek captured pictures from another vantage point. After shooting for a few hours, we decided to call it a day. We had been shooting late into the night and it was exhausting.
After a short nap, I went back to the slums. The fire had been extinguished. But all that it had destroyed in its wake would only become evident in the light of day. As I waited for the sun to rise, the thought of “Slumdog Millionaire” star Rubina Ali suddenly struck me. A girl from the Mumbai slums, Rubina had been picked up by acclaimed Hollywood director Danny Boyle to play the younger version of lead character Latika in his award-winning film. I remembered being told she lived in Gharib Nagar. I started looking for her.