A chat with Saroo Brierley, the subject of 6-time Oscar nominee ‘Lion’

Han Nguyen

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Brierley sits down with Rappler to talk about his thoughts on the Oscar nods, his visits to his birth mother, and what lies ahead.

UNEXPECTED. Saroo Brierley is grateful for the Oscar nominations but says it was not the reason he told his story. Photo by Han Nguyen

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Earning 6 Oscar nominations, Lion was the obvious choice to headline the Festival Sinema Australia Indonesia 2017 (FSAI) in Jakarta on January 26, Thursday.

The film is based on the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, which tells the story of a young Indian boy who was adopted by an Australian family, and who later attempts to find his biological parents.

Speaking to Rappler, Brierley, who the movie is based on, said he was very humbled and touched by the Oscar buzz but said winning awards wasn’t the reason for his telling the story. 

“I don’t know much about the Golden Globes and Oscars and all that and that wasn’t the whole idea about getting the story out to the world,” he said during his visit here.

“I guess I’m supposed to maybe tell this story to the world so people can be enlightened, and make their minds open up and think that we’re not just flesh and blood on this Earth. We’re more than that and if we put our minds to things, we can achieve – because nothing is impossible.”

Brierley also talked about his increasing visits to India, sharing he has been back 14 times since first finding his birth mother. 

“The first time I went back, I told her that I’d be back a year later,” Brierley said.

“The reason I told her I’d be back in a year’s time was because that would have been the right amount of time for me to earn enough money to go back – I wasn’t earning massive amounts of wages or anything like that and I had heaps of bills to pay.”

“I wanted to go back so that I could give some to my family, so I thought a years time would be best.”

Visiting Australia

Brierley said even though there is a language barrier, their relationship grows after every visit. His birth mom has not seen the film but Brierley said he is waiting for it to be translated for her to watch it.

“I guess when that happens my family will really understand what happened to me,” he said.

“I don’t think they really understand the degree of what had really happened, of what I’ve been through. It’s like seeing is believing.”

The 35-year-old also said he had discussed the prospects of bringing his birth mom to Australia but said it was a much more complex situation.

“We’re quick to talk about – as Westerners, that you should do this and that, but you always forget you have to be mindful of who they are and how they’ve lived.”

“In time I think so, it’ll be great for her to come and see where I’ve been the last 25 years. But you’ve got to be very cautious – she’s a very conservative woman and she’s never been out to a mega city let alone go on a plane.”

Brierley said he would not change anything about his life, but would not wish it on anyone else.

“How boring would it [life] be? I know it has been tragic in some parts, but to live a life where it’s just so planned out and so easy and nothing really happens is good in some ways, but on this story I can say I went through this and that and have gone through not so happy times.”

Celebrating film

More than 250 people attended the opening night including celebrities Rianti Cartwright and husband Cassanova Alfonso, Edric Tjandra and Ananda Sukarlan. 

Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Grigson, said the festival is a celebration of the thriving film industries in both Australia and Indonesia. 

“Australians and Indonesians share a love of film as a way of expressing their hopes, dreams and challenges and both countries have dynamic industries and a wealth of creative talent,” he said.

“I think there’s good potential in the future for Australia and Indonesia to work together on films and I am hoping this film festival is one of the ways we can bring them together.”

The Ambassador also said the premiere was a great way to celebrate Australia Day outside of the country. 

The festival also showcases the best emerging Indonesian filmmakers through the inaugural FSAI Short Film Competition,

From the 300 films which entered the competition, 6 finalists were chosen for a chance to win a trip to this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival in August. 

Lion review

The Australian-American film, directed by Garth Davis, stars Dev Patel as adult Saroo and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother Sue Brierley.

This is the first feature for Davis who has had a successful career in commercials. Together with screenwriter Luke Davies, they did an incredible job in recreating Brierley’s story, even though they don’t follow the 2012 memoir exactly. The material and sentimental aspect of the film is so rich that it makes it easy to forgive the flaws.

The film begins with a 5-year-old Indian boy, played by newcomer Sunny Pawar, pilfering lumps of coal off a train with his older brother, Guddu, and selling them to buy food.

One night, after following his older brother to work on a train station, Brierley falls asleep on a bench and when he wakes, he is alone. He stumbles onto a passenger train and before he knows it, is speeding to Calcutta. 

Within the first 45 minutes of the film, the audience is left gripping onto their seats, anxiously wondering what would happen to the boy.

Brierley is eventually adopted by an Australian family and grows up fond of sailing and cricket. The film flashes forward to an older Brierley, who by his late 20s, sets out to find his birth family using his faint memories of his past and Google Earth. 

The second half of the film is weaker than the first, but Davis and Davies draw the audiences in at the end of the film with images and visions of the heartwarming reunion between real life Brierley and his birth mother – which bring tears to the audience’s eyes. 

The images show just how accurate costume designers worked to make Nicole Kidman represent the real Sue Brierley. Kidman’s acting was also spot on and showed the life of a grateful but struggling mother with two adopted children. 

One of the most powerful moments in the film is when Brierley approaches his adoptive mother and expresses his feelings of sympathy for her because she is unable to have children of her own and had to adopt. The intense scene and acting by Patel and Kidman leaves a heartwarming feeling that is hard to forget.

Visually, viewers are treated to many sweeping landscape shots of both India and Australia, which also proves effective. The juxtaposition between Brierley’s comfortable, suburban, middle-class upbringing in Hobart, and the tough, dirty, poor lifestyle he inadvertently escaped back in India, is a strong portrayal or Brierley’s life and what would have been. 

Bring your tissues, because you’ll need them. – Rappler.com 

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