Indian Child Actors Within The Western Film Industry4 min read

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Tom Brownridge
Content Writer, Film Reviewer and Film Blogger

Child actors are used within film to help the audience engage with the narrative and certain characters. This is done for the audience member to have a connection to a character to receive an emotional attachment to the child on-screen. The likes of Jack in 2015 Oscar winner Room and Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008), both represent the child you have or know, making you have an emotional connection to these characters as well as towards the characters of the mother and father figure. This enhances the audience member to have an emotional connection towards the child, so the narrative can evolve and take you on a touching and impacting adventure.

However, what about the Indian child actors that has been used in a UK/US production. Some Indian child actors are being used and not seeing the benefits for their work, so wouldn’t this be classed as child labour?

Films like Slumdog Millionaire (2008), the two main child actors: Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail was paid £1,700 and Rubina Ali only being paid £500. Quite a small amount to say their budget was $15 million and a profit of $141 million (April 2009).

The question is, are these actors receiving the correct recognition and appreciation they deserve? The answer is a controversial one. The Guardian and other newspaper publishers also reported on the low income that child actors got. Still to this day we are seeing Eastern child actors not being paid remotely close to white child actors from the West.

White child actors are more looked after by the production companies when compared to Eastern child actors. This isn’t referring to teenagers. This is twelve years and below. Children this young, don’t know the rights and wrongs on the benefits scale when casted within a film and their parents aren’t aware of how film productions work and what is good pay or not. So where does the line cross when recruiting children this young especially, none western children?

For instance, Slumdog Millionaire hired hundreds of Indian children due to the scenes and surroundings of the film. However, the majority of those children went back to being in the slums and didn’t see any impact on their lives afterwards. So, what were they used for? Just for entertainment purposes for the west to be amused? Maybe, maybe not. The argument is, why weren’t these children treated like other members of the cast?

Bringing this into current affairs, Lion (2017) stars some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. The main child actor is Sunny Pawar who is portraying Young Saroo. As listed above these big stars of Hollywood have already made a successful career, making it to the top earning millions from just one film. However, what happened to Sunny Pawar?

He couldn’t attend the first premier in the U.S. because he didn’t have a visa. Surely the film production company or someone would have made this a priority.

This is where it gets interesting. Apparently Sunny was close to Nicole Kidman while filming. Why weren’t these ‘big stars’ helping the unfortunate? Sunny is one of the main actors in Lion. Why wasn’t the production company making sure he was there for the first premier?

Sunny met Baraka Obama shortly after the release of Lion in the U.S. I’m sure Sunny was over the moon by meeting Obama. However, this will never compare to attending to your debut film screening and your first premier.

Sunny isn’t from the slums of India, however People Magazine interviewed Sunny with the subtitle of ‘But if acting doesn’t pan out…’ Wait a second, wasn’t Lion up for a BAFTA, nominated in the Golden Globes and was nominated at the Academy Awards? Why can’t it pan out for Sunny? No one said this about Jacob Tremblay after Room in 2015.
The payment for Sunny hasn’t been published yet but after seeing what happened in Slumdog Millionaire, we can only presume that it will be the same low payment.

These types of controversial issues get looked over because ‘it doesn’t matter to us’. Sunny is eight years old, his parents have brought him up wanting an education and wanted him to do well in life. They were also willing to put Sunny in Lion because of the idea of him being successful afterwards and receiving appropriate pay. However, if the same issues happen to Sunny as they did in Slumdog Millionaire then nothing has changed in 9 years but this issue needs addressing urgently.

Will the production companies change or will this be the same poverty story for years to come?

What are your views on the way eastern child actors are treated?

Do you have a view on the article above? Are child actors outside the US and UK exploited and not treated fairly? Please let us know in the comment box below!


If you liked this article, you can find similar ones at Tom Brownridge’s website, 2eyes1screen.

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Tom Brownridge

Tom Brownridge

Content Writer, Film Reviewer and Film Blogger