Dev Patel is no stranger to Oscar success, with his breakout role in the wildly successful Slumdog Millionaire, a film that won seven Oscars including Best Picture. This time, he'll be looking to win his own statuette, for his emotionally devastating performance in Lion, co-starring Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara, a film which tells the story of a boy who is separated from his family at four years old, only to rediscover them twenty-five years later using Google Earth. Watch the heartwarming trailer below:
Adapted from the novel A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, it sure looks like a awe-inspiring tale about the importance of home and the wonders of technology. The only shame is that it took Dev Patel eight years to get material this good again, his talents somewhat wasted in the two Grand Marigold Hotel movies. Nevertheless, the key question remains: is it based on the true story?
Got On The Wrong Train
Like so many films competing for Oscars, Lion is based on a remarkable true story. Saroo was just a regular kid in India, growing up in a small rural village. At the age of four, he was with his brother looking for scraps to eat. His brother told him to wait at the train station when he fell asleep. When he awoke, he assumed his brother was on a nearby train, and made an impulsive decision, getting on board:
"I opened my eyes and couldn't see my brother, but I saw a train in front of me with the door open and for some reason I thought he was on board. I ran over and jumped on the train just as the doors closed and pulled out of the station, and it was only then that I realised he wasn't there. I think you could say that split-second decision changed my life forever."
Despite not being able to find his brother, he stayed on that train for over 1,000 miles, before finally ending up in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata).
He spent a total of five brutal months in the city. He tried to take trains back home but each time he would somehow end up back in the central Howrah railway station. He also tried to walk home and nearly drowned in the river Ganges. After two weeks of being homeless around the station and the local streets, he was taken in by a local railway worker. Yet he realised something was amiss when he was shown to his shady friend. Quickly he figured out that he was being sold into slavery and ran away.
He was found by another teenager on the streets, who took him to the police station where he was officially considered as a lost child. A few weeks later he was finally put in an orphanage. Not knowing enough about his hometown to help police, he was soon adopted by the Brierley family from Tasmania, Australia.
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The Magic Of Google Earth
He lived with his newly adopted parents for twenty five years, learned English, forgot Hindi and earned an engineering degree. But he couldn't forget his hometown:
"I kept in my head the images of the town I grew up in, the streets I used to wander and the faces of my family, I treasured those memories."
Remembering that the train was around 14 hours long and that the train was going at around 50mph, he drew a thousand mile radius around the city of Kolkata. From that base he partook in the potentially Sisyphean task of locating the hometown he grew up in by endlessly virtually travelling around that space through the use of Google Earth. As he says:
"I thought to myself, "Well, the first thing you're gonna see before you come to your home town is the river where you used to play with your brothers, and the waterfall, and the architecture of this particular place where you used to visit quite a lot." It has to be exactly the same, otherwise, if it's not, I'd just fly over and go somewhere else. When I found it, I zoomed on it and bang, it just came up. I navigated it all the way from the waterfall where I used to play."
Eventually, he could see his own house right there on Google Earth. Yet it would still be another few months before he made the likely fruitless journey to see if his family were still there.
When he first turned up in his hometown of Ganesh Talai, he assumed the worst:
"I just thought the worst, I thought perhaps everyone's gone, my whole family's died, they've passed away"
Even worse, the family home was empty. However, locals — who had likely never seen a foreigner before — soon asked him what his business was in the town, and after he listed off the names of his family, was directed to a building just a few blocks down. At the doorway was his mother.
"She looked so much shorter than I remembered when I was a 4 1/2-year-old child. But she came forth and walked forward, and I walked forward, and my emotions and tears and the chemical in my brain, you know, it was like a nuclear fusion. I just didn't know, really, what to say, because I never thought this point in time or ever seeing my mother would ever come true. And here I am, standing in front of her."
Saroo still lives in Australia, but Skypes his Indian family regularly. He used the fame generated from the story to write the bestseller A Long Way Home. Lion sure will be a splash once it hits stateside on November 25th.
Will You Be Watching Lion?