Photographers' Blog

Meeting a homeless “Millionaire”

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”.

People watch from a nearby building as a fire burns in a slum in Mumbai March 4, 2011.   REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

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.

A local resident walks with a stick as he tries to help put out a fire in a slum in Mumbai March 4, 2011.  REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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.

Residents search for their belongings amid the ruins of the Gharib Nagar slum in Mumbai March 5, 2011.   REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 06 March 2011

I do enjoy a coincidence. The week after calls for prodemocracy demonstrations under the social media tag of "Jasmine Revolution" and the week before  the National People's Congress (NPC), International journalists (and I of course include photographers under this title) are brought in by the authorities for "chat". During the "chat" they are reminded of the terms of their journalist visas and how quickly these visas can be revoked if the rules are broken on illegal reporting. Also outlined are places that special permission is needed to report from, Tiananmen Square heading the list. Our picture of a member of the PLA leaving the Great Hall in Tiananmen Square appearing to almost step on the photographer with this low angle picture, as I said I do love a coincidence.

CHINA-DEFENCE/

A military delegate from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) leaves the Great Hall of the People after a meeting during the annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, in Beijing March 4, 2011. China said on Friday that its official military budget for 2011 will rise 12.7 percent over last year, returning to the double-digit rises that have stoked regional disquiet about Beijing's expanding strength. REUTERS

Inside the Great Hall Jason shot this fantastic, Daliesque image of the headless conductor who appears to radiate waves from the central red star that has replaced his head. Another picture that caught my eye is the image of the patient watching the national address by China's Premier Wen Jiabao from her hospital bed. I wonder if the remote is within reach as these speeches tend to go on for quite a long time and imagine that if you are in hospital in pain there is only so much economic news you can absorb at one time ? Moving away from Beijing and the NPC I am really drawn to Aly's picture of the construction site which was shot to illustrate the housing inflation story in China (not an easy one at any stretch of the imagination). The metal reinforcement supports look like leafless trees, the solitary figure trudging through a lifeless, snowy landscape.