Just months before, the child stars had been plucked from the dirt-ridden, tin-shackled streets of Mumbai to star in the blockbuster hit Slumdog Millionaire.

Picking up eight awards at the annual star-studded event, the $189 million-grossing film had catapulted the youngsters into the international spotlight. From this point, they thought they were destined for great things.

But nine months on, 10-year-olds Azhar and Rubina and their impoverished families are worse off than ever before. For Azhar, who played the young Salim in the movie, his fame couldn't save his beloved dad Mohammed, who died weeks ago from a long battle with tuberculosis.

While the family had moved from the slums to a one-bedroom apartment with an inside toilet and running water in the rundown Santacruz district, the disease had ravaged 45-year-old Mohammed's emaciated body beyond repair.

'I want my father to get well and play with me,' Azhar told a UK magazine the day before his father's death, oblivious to the seriousness of his condition. 'But he's just lying there.'

Rubina, the precocious little girl who played the young heroine Latika, isn't much better off than her friend. Two months after her Oscar debut, and within a week of Azhar's family's 'illegal hut' being torn down by local authorities, bulldozers were sent in to demolish her family's ramshackle home in a clean-up mission.

Sheltering from the rain beneath her grandmother's chai stall, Rubina is gracious beyond her years.

'Coming home from abroad is hard,' she says, referring to the tiny shack they resurrected. 'Everything is luxurious when I go away, there are five-star hotels, but I was born and brought up here, so this is my life. The slum is where all my family and friends are.'

The only indication of wealth in the tiny home is a new flat screen TV mounted on the wall, and the video game she is playing.

Since returning from LA, Rubina has travelled to France to launch her autobiography Slumdog Dreaming, and to Hong Kong for a charity show. She shot an ad for beverage brand Schweppes with Nicole Kidman, and meeting actor Gerard Butler was a highlight.

But most of the $1000 she reportedly received for her part in the film went towards treating her father Rafiq Qureshi's broken leg. She spent the remainder on a mobile phone, which was crushed with the house.

Rafiq, who was cleared of claims he tried to sell his famous daughter, says they have decided not to move out of the slums. They insist they're better off surrounded by loved ones as opposed to a tiny flat in a bad area, and that given their relatively good health, they still have options.

Despite their hardship, both actors are determined to make it big. Azhar, who has also written an autobiography, dreams of one day being a bigger star than his Bollywood hero, Salman Khan.

'I thought I would be getting movie offers from Hollywood,' he says. 'The main problem is that everyone wants to know about me but nobody understands us. They give the impression that we are poor but I don't want charity. I'm a film star and when I grow up that's what I'm going to be.'

Dev Patel and Freida Pinto

Since going public with their romance in August, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto's relationship is going from strength to strength.

The loved-up couple, whose relationship blossomed on the Slumdog Millionaire set, looked blissful as they strolled hand in hand through the streets of London while late-night shopping.

Although they initially denied speculation their on-screen love had spilled into real life, public displays of affection have become common for the pair.

English-born Dev and Freida, who hails from India, were pictured kissing in April, two months after they allegedly made things official around the time of the Oscars.

In January, the former model broke off her engagement to her boyfriend of two years, Rohan Antao. Rumours she and Dev were an item were confirmed the following month when he flew to Israel to spend time with the 25-year-old during a break from her new film Miral - coinciding the visit with his 19th birthday.

'Freida is really beautiful and I'm really happy for them,' Dev's mum Anita says.

At London's Film4 Summer screen festival in August, their chemistry was hard to deny.

'He looked quite protective of her,' an onlooker says. 'They weren't shy in front of the cameras.'

The couple spent the English summer together while Freida was filming with Woody Allen, stepping out at London Fashion Week in September and a string of parties.

Dev, who will star in the upcoming film The Last Airbender, has been living with his parents in Harrow and is looking to buy his own place in the centre of London. But pals say he and Freida aren't rushing to move in together.

'Both of them are very traditional,' an insider says. 'It just wouldn't be the done thing.'

Supporting the slumdog kids

A trust set up by Celador Films to take care of the children it took from the slums to become Slumdog Millionaire stars has enrolled the young actors in school for the first time and vowed to give them a large sum once they finish their education.

But the $66,000 allocated to buy their families new homes isn't enough to move them to a nicer area such as Bandra West, home to many Bollywood stars.

'I don't want my child brought up here, but it's not my fault,' Rubina Ali's father Rafiq says of their decision to stay in the slums.

Director Danny Boyle, who's pledged $1.6 million to help poor children in India, has defended the treatment of the movie's young stars.

'If we give them a lot of money now, it won't do anything,' he says. 'It'll vanish. We want the kids to have more than wealth - we want them to have skills that will set them up for life.'

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