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Dramatizing the already dramatic story that inspired 'Lion'

Screenwriter Luke Davies (left) and Saroo Brierley at a screening of
Screenwriter Luke Davies (left) and Saroo Brierley at a screening of "Lion."
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

Among the movies being recognized at the Oscars this weekend is the feature film, "Lion."

It’s nominated for six awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (for Luke Davies), and Best Actor for Dev Patel who plays Saroo Brierley as an adult.

"Lion" is based on Brierley's memoir, “A Long Way Home.” When he was five years old, he was separated from his family on a train and found himself totally alone, hurtling across India. He ended up being adopted by an Australian couple who raised him in Tasmania. In his 30s, he goes on a mission to find his biological family.

Davies and Brierley recently visited The Frame's studio to discuss adapting the story for the big screen.

Interview Highlights

On why Saroo retraced his journey with Davies:

BRIERLEY: It's not fictional, it's factual. I think what's so great about it is that I wanted to take Luke back to India and go through the journey of everything that's happened with my Mom, to the place that I was born, talking about everything.

On the importance of motherhood to the film:

DAVIES: Garth [Davis, the film's director] said something to me at the very beginning of the process when he and I were literally sitting down with a whiteboard for a week. We sat there beginning to map out the structure of the film. He said, I see the two mothers as the spiritual pillars that hold this film up. Between those pillars, Saroo's urgent journey passes. And the movie is about him very much. But the spiritual foundation of the film is about them, the mothers. That gave me a sense of what I was trying to aim for in writing the screenplay — to keep the mothers very much afloat. The unconditional love of the mothers, the bewilderment and loss of Kamala waiting for 25 years. Again, it was that moment where I met Kamala — Saroo's biological mother — in the research trip and watched her weeping and felt all of her emotions and suffering and grief. I knew how the film had to feel at the end. I knew how the reunification scene had to feel. It had to be triumphant and transcendent. So I had something to aim for and it was because the mothers were at the heart of the film.

Dev Patel and Priyanka Bose, who plays his birth mother, in a scene from
Dev Patel and Priyanka Bose, who plays his birth mother, in a scene from "Lion."
Long Way Home Productions

On the arguments over how to tell Saroo's story:

DAVIES: From my perspective it was like asking permission from Saroo in advance. It was like letting him know that we would be forced to take certain liberties and that it might feel weird because it's your life and it's not your life. At some levels I hoped that it was okay that, in real life, Saroo basically drove two or three girlfriends completely bonkers with his obsessive searching, which was five years, not the two that we compress into for the movie. For the purposes of the film, I think Saroo accepts that it's better and easier to cast one girlfriend — the Rooney Mara character, Lucy — rather than make the film really busy with relationship breakups and starting and falling in love again. 

On how "Lion" showed an ignored part of the world:

DAVIES: The story is so profoundly moving and at the same time deeply improbable. Twelve months ago, when we were starting to see rough cuts, there was that moment of like, We've done a good thing! This is a good film! But it was still not back then a feeling that we'd be sitting here with Oscar nominations. It was still, American audiences? Subtitles? Five-year-old non-professional actor carrying the film? We were just happy that the film felt beautiful and good. The rest of it — this is a really pleasant surprise for me and I hope for you too, Saroo.

BRIERLEY: It resonates in everyone in some ways from every nation and culture. There are [someone] I was talking to two days ago and she told me that her father has never cried. He's about 82 years of age and sat there watching this movie and he was in absolute tears. You know why? Back in the days when the war was going on in Vietnam and he came to the U.S., this particular scene of being lost and losing your family reminded him of what actually happened to him. He lost his family as well. There are so many stories that are coming through on my Twitter of people resonating so well because they feel this has happened to them, but they've never been able to talk about it. 

Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley in
Dev Patel plays Saroo Brierley in "Lion."
Long Way Home Productions

On the reactions from Saroo's family:

BRIERLEY: They were captivated because there's a difference between reading and drawing pictures up yourself. Your visual sense just gets so over the top when you see a film that you end up going numb. When my mom saw it, she was just over the moon. When my friends saw it — and they've all sent me messages, like, Saroo, you're an absolute testament to the human spirit. This movie is just amazing. We're so sorry that we didn't know about this.

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