Sometimes, to pursue a dream, you have to have the heart of a lion. Lion is a 2016 film about Saroo Brierley, who at 5 years old, found himself lost and wandering the streets of Calcutta until he was discovered and brought to a home for lost children. Ultimately, Brierley was adopted by an Australian family, played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, and began to live a new life with them. It took him 25 years to realize where his birth mother actually was.
It wasn't until Brierley was in his 20s that his cloudy memories of his past in Calcutta leading to his adoption came crashing back and he made the decision to try and find his birth mother using #GoogleEarth. The remarkable story has already been generating serious Oscar buzz, and rightfully so. But what is Saroo Brierley's story, and how did he come to finally be reunited with his birth mother after some 25 years?
How Did This Happen?
How did a 5-year-old come to travel nearly 1000 miles to Calcutta from Burhanpur on his own? Lion is the incredible story not just of Brierley's journey of survival from the train station he found himself alone in to his arrival with his adoptive parents, John and Sue Brierley, but of how he worked to reunite himself with his mother and any surviving family members he may have still had in his native India.
As a child, Saroo Brierley grew up in poverty; with two brothers and a little sister, there were too many mouths that needed feeding and not enough money, particularly for a single mother whose husband had left. Saroo's older brother, Guddu, decided one day he wanted to go to the local train station to search for loose change in the train compartments as a way of helping his mother make money. Saroo asked to go with him, unwittingly setting into motion the chain of events that would send him on the journey of a lifetime.
Even at 5, alone and lost, Saroo knew he had to survive. With a talent for remembering directions almost by instinct, his first move was to try and retrace his steps back home, but he didn't fully understand that he was miles from home. As a result, he spent three weeks surviving on scraps and his wits in Calcutta, narrowly avoiding being sold into slavery, among other dangers.
It wasn't until Saroo encountered a man who spoke a little Hindi instead of the native Bengali that he was brought to the police, and later sent to a home for lost children, where he was ultimately adopted by the Brierleys.
- The Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption felt that Saroo would be a good candidate for adoption, and so, when he was transferred to an orphanage, he was taught how to eat with a knife and fork. This was believed to be a skill that would help improve his chances of adoption.
- Saroo was illiterate when he got lost; he had no idea what his family name was for sure.
- Guddu never made it back to pick Saroo up. No one is quite sure of the chain of events which led to his death.
How Supportive Were The Brierleys Of Saroo's Quest To Find His Birth Family?
Both John and Sue Brierley were quite supportive of Saroo trying to find his roots, but Sue Brierley admitted to some worry. While it was quite impressive that he'd used Google Earth to retrace his steps and find what he'd believed was his hometown, there was concern that perhaps he was motivated by memories that may not have been entirely accurate. Sue was worried that perhaps her son would discover that his mother sent him away rather than have another mouth to feed.
Their son was insistent that this could not have been the case, and in spite of his mother's worries, left for India to retrace his steps back home. After a flight that lasted over 20 hours and a cab ride to the town of Khandwa, the town where he'd originally boarded the train and the town he grew up in. Though the image in his head and the town he saw before him were just different enough, he trusted his instinct to find his way back to his house.
He found himself face to face with three women, and before long, found himself in his mother's embrace. He soon met up with a host of relatives, including his surviving brother and little sister, both of whom had families of their own.
Saroo Brierley chronicled his quest in the book A Long Way Home, which was ultimately adapted into the 2016 film Lion. Starring Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as Saroo and Rooney Mara as his girlfriend Lucy (based on Saroo's real-life girlfriend at the time, Lisa), the film has already generated Oscar buzz.
Now, Saroo has spent the last three years since his reunion with his birth mother staying in contact with her and sending her $100 monthly to help her with expenses. He tries to visit once or twice a year, and while his mother had tried to get him to stay in India, his life in now in Australia.
Lion debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016 and hit theaters November 25 in the United States. It is slated to bow in the United Kingdom January 20, 2017.
What other stories of finding one's way back home have moved you?