'Step Up 2' star Robert Hoffman introduces Indian 'slum princess' as daughter, flayed for exploiting 12-year-old
Robert Hoffman is an actor, dancer and choreographer best known for playing Chase Collins in 'Step Up 2: The Streets' and Justin Drayton in 'She's the Man'. Earlier this year, Hoffman traveled to India to film a music video, when he came across Maleesha Kharwa, a 12-year-old girl who lives in the slums in Mumbai, India. Hoffman's move to take the girl under his wing to get her a modeling career has now been called out.
Hoffman first reached Mumbai in February to shoot for the music video for 'Aag Ka Gola LA', directed by Arsala Qureishi whom he first met in Los Angeles. He also spent time teaching cancer-stricken kids some dance moves.
So far, so good. But it is what comes after that has rubbed people the wrong way. Hoffman first met Maleesha after he had hired a few of her family members to be in the music video. Hoffman was taken by the girl's beauty and started referring to her as "Slum Princess."
Since then, Hoffman has taken to creating an Instagram account for Maleesha as well as posting on her behalf. The first post says, "This is me with my father and my brother and my friend @hoffmanrobert. He was hanging out with us by the water after he hired some of my family to be in his music video. Then he asked me if anyone has ever talked to me about modeling. I told him I hadn’t and he offered to help! Now we are all friends starting this journey together."
Earlier, the account had stated in the bio that Maleesha was Hoffman's "daughter," something that was pointed out by others. In a post shared on Hoffman's personal Instagram, a user commented, "I’m really confused. Why does it say she’s your daughter on your IG handle? And are you writing on her behalf from her IG account? Because she writes English very well for being from a low socioeconomic background."
Hoffman also set up a GoFundMe page for Maleesha to raise funds to get her a cellphone with a data plan with the first tier of donations, and then for low-priced housing. A user, Aishwarya Subramanyam took to Twitter to point out problems with Hoffman's actions.
In the GoFundMe page created by Hoffman, the description reads, "Some people call me the 'Slum Princess'," a term Hoffman had himself come up with. Under the question of how the fund raised will be used, Hoffman has written on behalf of Maleesha, "In order to hopefully start a modeling career, I have learned that I will need some money to get photographs taken, buy some clean clothes, afford transportation to castings, and maybe even get a proper home so that I can bathe properly and stay clean."
Under "My Safety," he wrote, "Many people have been asking about my safety and I feel very lucky that so many people are caring for me." An earlier version also showed that Hoffman had written, "The person who will be helping me in my career is a very experienced person in Hollywood so I will be protected from any bad deals or agencies with bad intentions."
Under "Notes from the Organizer," Hoffman wrote, "Maleesha's safety has been #1 in importance from the onset of this vision, as we are all aware of the dangers of the country she lives in."
He also wrote, "For every inquiry received, our first response contains a non-negotiable term that Maleesha will be accompanied by an adult male guardian at all times who will at no time be out of eyesight. Maleesha lives with her father and is surrounded by cousins and uncles who have a tight net of protection around her - although, I have advised extra caution in light of Maleesha's momentum thus far."
He added, "Maleesha's mother is not with them and she has made it clear to me that it is not something she wishes to discuss, and that is all that will ever be said about that until Maleesha takes an initiative otherwise."
Subramanyam had pointed out Hoffman's problematic responses to those who raised concerns for the welfare of the child. In one Instagram post, a user commented, "This page is so problematic. To me, this almost borders child abuse. She is so much more vulnerable to all the online crime and hate," to which Hoffman replied, "I think you should try sleeping on wet rocks at the waters edge to try and get enough of a cool breeze to minimize how many times you have to wake up to fan yourself..."
In an Instagram post created for Maleesha's account, a user commented, "Robert, I see you’ve blocked me from your official profile for tagging the authorities. Unfortunately, that just strengthens my opinion that your “campaign” is extremely dubious. She is 12. A child. She needs education to secure her future, not a white male with a [savior] complex telling her that she’s pretty and that he will help get her a [modeling] career. That’s wrong on many many levels and if you don’t see it, that’s just too bad."
Hoffman has since got in touch with Subramanyam to initiate dialogue on the matter and implement some changes. He notes that he has "extremely long video files" documenting all of his interactions with Maleesha and that he does not understand the agenda "of some people," saying, "I do not understand what exactly you are accusing me of."
Subramanyam responded that the scrutiny of his actions come because of the involvement of a minor girl from a poor family, adding, "there have been several instances of foreigners taking advantage of situations like this." She also says Maleesha's education should be the primary focus. She also points out that Hoffman should involve a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that works with children or a female activist who can be a part of what Hoffman is doing and answer questions he cannot.
Hoffman then responded, "That's really eye-opening to see how it can be seen but that helps me to understand so much." He adds that he will be taking Subramanyam's points into consideration. Hoffman also states that he is working with Hope B-Lit, a non-profit that according to its Instagram page, "That provides Value Based education, Oral care & Produces Heart & Award Winning Films based on children’s issues."
He also wrote, "I don't think negative attention is going to reward Maleesha in any way. Perhaps putting a pause on your [personal] campaign until you can see further developments. Because, clearly, we are not abducting Maleesha. Otherwise, we wouldn't be so overtly public with this social media campaign."