Oscars: 'Lion' Is an Emotional Rollercoaster, Says the Real-Life Saroo Brierley

Mark Rogers/Long Way Productions

The Indian-Australian and his family want the film to throw the spotlight on the issue of international adoptions.

Despite seeing Lion around 20 times, the real-life Saroo Brierley still gets emotional when he sees the Oscar-nominated film based on his epic journey to find his family.

The response to the film of Brierley’s story - how he was separated from his family in India at age 5, adopted by an Australian couple and embarked on an epic search to find his birth family 25 years later - has been amazing, he says. “It's another level of my story to the news reports and the book but the intensity is so much greater,” the 35-year old tells THR.

The film is “so captivating and a testament to hope, perseverance and the triumph of the human spirit. We never thought that there’d be so much conversation about the film, especially on the humanitarian side,” adds Brierley, clearly thrilled that that it is resonating with audiences worldwide.

Four weeks into its Australian release Lion has taken AUS$20.8 million ($16 million) and is on track to become the fifth-highest-grossing Australian film of all time — and the only non-studio film in the top 5 — at the local box office, say distributors Transmission. It has taken more than $70 million worldwide.

Personal biases aside, Brierley is sanguine about its chances for Oscar success.

 “I’d love it to get the recognition for the essence of what See Saw, Garth (Davis), Luke (Davies) and the cast have created. Their effort and achievement deserve it,” he says.  

Brierley, however admits he’s no film critic. “If people want to critique the film, its nothing to do with me,” he says. Its the platform Lion provides for widening its message about adoption that’s now important to the Brierley family.

Brierley and his mother, Sue, were “intensively involved” with director Garth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies during Lion’s development. “We were adamant that certain things were in the film that were part of its core. The coal, the train journey, the drowning scene to name a few. It was important to us that the film was projected true to the story. And that was a big thing that they honored,” he says.  

Now the film’s growing audience is, “an opportunity to give a wake up call regarding the availability of adoption as a high priority for children in desperate need of a new family,” he says.

While Lion remains an emotional rollercoaster, both Brierley and Sue have developed close personal relationships with the actors who play them – Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman respectively. Kidman and Sue Brierley have bonded over the issue of adoption, both being adopting parents.

Of Patel, Brierley says, “We just bounced and gelled, when we met. We talked and talked and got to the essence of each other. He is so charismatic and effervescent and I’m happy that we can call each other friends. Patel was attracted to the role Brierley says because “its such a personal story. There’s not many like that that come around”.  

And Brierley hasn’t quite finished with his story yet.

“After this is all over I need to sit my butt back down and write,” he says, with a “prequel” of sorts in the works.

He wants it to center on his adoptive and biological mothers and Mrs. Sood, the head of the orphanage responsible for his adoption, and who previously has worked with Mother Theresa.

“The stories of these amazing women who are oceans apart but bound together, would be so endearing to a lot of women,” Brierley says.  

“There needs to be more profound, unique stories that are real,” he adds.