- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

MUMBAI, INDIA — Indian police said Wednesday they have so far found no evidence that the father of a child star in the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” tried to sell the 9-year-old girl to an undercover reporter.

Police opened an investigation following a complaint from Khurshid Begum, the estranged mother of “Slumdog Millionaire” star Rubina Ali, after News of the World reported the father planned to put her up for adoption. The British newspaper said the deal was reportedly offered to one of its reporters posing as a sheik from the Mideast.

But officers said so far they found nothing to back the claim of the British tabloid that the father, Rafiq Qureshi, offered to give up Ali for adoption in exchange for some $400,000.

“We have interrogated Rubina’s father at length and have not found any evidence against him indicating that he was trying to sell Rubina,” said senior police officer Nishar Tamboli.

However, he said the investigation was still going on.

Rahim Sheik, the police officer leading the probe, said television footage of the incident obtained by Mumbai police also did not incriminate Qureshi.

It was not immediately clear if police had access to footage beyond that posted on the Web site of the newspaper. The newspaper owned by News International Ltd., the main British subsidiary of News Corp., which also owns “Slumdog” distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures said the father was demanding millions of rupees for the girl.

The newspaper quoted Mr. Qureshi as saying that Hollywood was to blame for forcing him to give her up for adoption.

“We’ve got nothing out of this film,” Rafiq Qureshi was quoted as saying. “I have to consider what’s best for me, my family and Rubina’s future.”

Mr. Qureshi has denied the report, saying he had been lured to a fancy Mumbai hotel by someone claiming they were moved by Rubina’s story and wanted to help her.

The accusations further complicated the lives of the families of the slum-dwelling child stars, who have come under intense scrutiny since the movie skyrocketed to Oscar-winning fame and grossed more than $300 million worldwide.

Following the success of the rags-to-riches tale, some criticized the filmmakers for failing to share the wealth with Mumbai’s millions of slum dwellers. Others accused them of exploiting two of the child stars, Rubina and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, who grew up in a wretched Mumbai slum.

The filmmakers’ initial efforts to help their families were thwarted by media attention, the changing demands of relatives and the film’s runaway success. Sudden fame and relative fortune also complicated relations between the actors and their neighbors.

The filmmakers feared if they gave the families a lump sum, the money would be squandered or extorted. Instead, they set up a trust fund for the two children that was supposed to provide them with a good education, adequate housing and social support.

Last week they also announced a donation of $747,500 to a charity devoted to improving the lives of street children in Mumbai.

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