The father of Slumdog Millionaire child star Rubina Ali has denied a report in Britain’s News of the World that he was prepared to place his 9-year-old daughter up for adoption for $300,000 as a “lie made up by foreign journalists playing games with me,” he tells PEOPLE.
The newspaper reported that Rafiq Qureshi, 36, demanded money after it had sent reporters posing as wealthy people from Dubai who said they wished to adopt a child.
Qureshi’s brother Moiuddin, who was present at the late-night meeting at a luxury Mumbai hotel, is reported to have insisted on an even higher figure for the transaction – the original offer was said to be about $75,000 – because of Rubina’s fame. By Monday, Reuters was reporting that Mumbai police were investigating the entire incident.
News of the World, which published a photo of its reporters with Rubina and her father meeting together, reported the uncle as saying: “The child is special now. This is not an ordinary child. This is an Oscar child!” (Slumdog won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.)
Met to Be Polite
Qureshi tells PEOPLE that there had been an offer but insisted that he had feigned interest out of politeness and a reluctance to appear cold and unfriendly. He said, “In India, you never say ‘no’ directly, least of all to guests. You try not to offend people by refusing to help. They said they were childless and desperately fond of Rubina after seeing her in the film. I felt sorry for them, but I was never going to give her up.”
He also said that he had gone back to the hotel the next day to say goodbye to the couple and had once again refused to part with Rubina. Queshi and his daughter live with his second wife Meena and their six other children in Garib Nagar (Poor Man’s Colony), a sprawling slum in Mumbai – though in February it as reported that Indian government authorities were providing new residences for Rubina and her young costar in the movie, Azhar Ismail.
The movie’s Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson have denied claims that children were exploited to make their movie – saying that the youngsters were paid above local Indian wages. The children, say the filmmakers, were also enrolled in school for the first time with a fund established to provide for their education, medical emergencies and “basic living costs.”
Wife and Rubina Herself React
In reference to the News of the World story, which has been picked up around the world, an angry Meena told PEOPLE: “We are poor, yes, but not so poor that we have to sell our children. The whole thing is a lie.”
Rubina backed up her father’s statement, calling the News of the World report untrue. “I trust my father. He loves me. He has never said that he wants to give me up,” she said. “I did meet an uncle and auntie in a big hotel but it was not about adoption. I will never give any foreign journalist an interview again.”