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Lion: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham | based on the book 'A Long Way Home' by Saroo Brierley

Dev Patel
Born: April 23, 1990
Harrow, London, England, UK
Saroo Brierley
Born: 1981
Birthplace: Khandwa, India
Nicole Kidman
Born: June 20, 1967
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Sue Brierley
Birthplace: Tasmania, Australia
David Wenham
Born: September 21, 1965
Marrickville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
John Brierley
Birthplace: England, UK
Divian Ladwa
Mantosh Brierley
Priyanka Bose
Kamala Khan
Birthplace: India
Sunny Pawar
Young Saroo Brierley
It was a needle in a haystack, but the needle was there. Everything's there. Everything we have in the world is at the tap of a button, but you gotta have the will and the determination to [get] it. -Saroo Brierley, Homeward Bound

Questioning the Story:

Did Saroo's birth mother really work as a bricker's laborer?

Yes, the Lion true story confirms that she worked long hours carrying bricks and cement and was often gone for extended periods. Saroo had two older brothers, Guddu and Kullu, and a little sister, Shekila, whom he looked after while his brothers were out searching for coins and ways to earn money.

The real Saroo Brierley and his onscreen counterpart Dev Patel.

Was Saroo's father around?

No. In fact-checking the Lion movie, we learned that his father, Munshi, had abandoned the family when Saroo was three. Saroo says that he had only seen his father about two times in his whole life. "He went off and married another woman, and left myself and my family to ourselves and my mother to raise us all up." -Real Big Things

How did Saroo Brierley become separated from his family?

One evening when Saroo was 5 years old, he and his brother Guddu headed to the local railway station to search for loose change in the train compartments and on the floorboards. They got on a train to Burhanpur, which was about two hours away. After getting off at the station there, Saroo felt tired so his brother told him to rest on a bench, promising to return soon, but it was the last time he would see his brother.

When Saroo woke up at the station he did not see his brother. He panicked and jumped on the nearest train, figuring Guddu must be on board. "He was nowhere to be seen," Saroo told 60 Minutes. "I was really hoping that he was on the train, but he wasn't." Saroo did not know where the train was going. He fell into a fitful sleep. When he woke he didn't recognize anything outside the train window and he was completely alone. "I just cried and cried and called out to my brother, but he was never there. It was very daunting and scary." The train traveled more than 1,600 kilometers (994 miles), ending up in Calcutta (renamed Kolkata in 2001 to mirror its Bengali spelling) where he disembarked.

Like in the movie, Saroo Brierley fell asleep on a train station bench and woke with his brother nowhere to be seen.

How long did Saroo Brierley live alone on the streets?

The Lion movie true story reveals that a 5-year-old Saroo survived by himself on the streets of Calcutta for three weeks, until he was taken to a police station and eventually placed into a local orphanage. The movie lengthens his time on the streets to two months. Not only was he alone, everyone spoke Bengali rather than his native Hindi dialect.

Why didn't Saroo tell someone his last name or the name of the town where he lived?

Saroo was illiterate. He didn't know his family's last name and he didn't know the name of the town where he lived. He never learned how to count to 10.

Did the real Saroo Brierley write a book about his experience?

Yes. Saroo's memoir A Long Way Home provided the basis for the movie. In the bestselling book, he tells the story of how he became lost in India at age five and how he ended up being adopted by Sue and John Brierley, an Australian couple. His longing to know where he came from intensified after college, and he shares the ups and downs of using Google Earth to narrow down and eventually pinpoint his hometown in India, a place he hadn't seen in 25 years. In the book, he recounts what it was like to get on a plane and set off to find his family, the culmination of a journey that had spanned more than two decades.

The book contains plenty of pictures of Saroo, including as an orphan in India, meeting the Brierleys, growing up in Australia, and reuniting with his birth family as an adult. It even includes pictures from the photo book that the Brierleys prepared for Saroo prior to his adoption.

Saroo tells the story of his near-lifelong journey home in the bestselling memoir A Long Way Home.

What did he do for food while he was living on the streets?

During the three weeks that he was alone on the streets of Calcutta, Saroo begged and scavenged for food. He found peanuts amongst dirt on the ground and came upon half-eaten food that had been thrown away. "If you found food on the ground and it smelt right, you ate it," said Saroo. "If it was half eaten, three quarters eaten, food that someone had just five seconds ago threw away, you ate that. That's how it was." -60 Minutes Interview

How did Saroo end up being adopted by Sue and John Brierley?

A man who spoke a little Hindi felt bad for Saroo and gave him shelter for three days. Not knowing what to do with the boy, he took Saroo to the local prison and they transferred him to a juvenile home the following day. A nonprofit child-welfare group known as the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption (ISSA) visited the home regularly and felt that Saroo was a good candidate for adoption. He was transferred to an orphanage, cleaned up, and taught how to eat with a knife and fork (a skill that could improve his chances of being adopted). Eventually, he was given the news that he was going to live with Sue and John Brierley, an Australian couple who had adopted him. Like in the movie, they sent a photo album to introduce themselves to Saroo.

Sue Brierley (left) and her husband John adopted Saroo. Actress Nicole Kidman (right) portrays Sue in the movie.

Did Saroo use Google Earth to track down his family?

Yes. "I was lookin' at Google Maps, realized there's Google Earth as well, a world where you can zoom into," says Saroo. "I started to have all these thoughts and what possibilities that this could do for me. I said to myself, 'Well, you know, you've got all that photographic memories and landmarks where you're from and you know what the town looks like. This could be an application that you can use to find your way back.'" Saroo spent years studying the labyrinth of railway lines on Google Earth, knowing that at some point they intersected the town where he was born. Relying on a near-quarter-century-old mental picture, Saroo searched in a radius that expanded outward from the Calcutta train station, where he had ended up as a child. Eventually, he started following a set of train tracks that led to a train station that "reflected the same image" that was in his memories. "Everything matched," he said of the topography, including a bridge next to a large industrial tank by the station. He traveled to India and was able to locate his hometown of Khandwa. -Homeward Bound

Is Rooney Mara's character Lucy based on a real person?

Yes. In the Lion movie, Lucy, played by Rooney Mara, is an American girl that Saroo meets in a class (his ambition is to make lots of money in hotel management). Lucy mainly exists in the film to represent Saroo's current status. He was raised by white parents in Australia, a world that greatly contrasts the one into which he was born, and Lucy is there in the film to remind us of that. The character was inspired by Saroo's real-life girlfriend at the time, Lisa Williams, an Australian. Like in the movie, Saroo became more determined to locate his birthplace after he began dating Lisa, in part because she had a fast internet connection at her apartment.

Lucy in the movie, portrayed by Rooney Mara (left), was inspired by Saroo's girlfriend at the time, Lisa Williams.

Why aren't actors Dev Patel and Rooney Mara ever shown kissing in the movie?

If you found it strange that Saroo (Dev Patel) and Lucy (Rooney Mara) don't ever kiss in the movie but share plenty of embraces and time in bed together, this is because showing kissing in Indian movies is largely considered taboo and was almost never seen before the 1990s. Until recent years, the dictates of the censor board usually forbade it. This is why most Bollywood movies often cut away before the kiss or show people flirtatiously chasing each other around trees, etc. instead of kissing. The actors and filmmakers chose to show respect for Indian culture and help guarantee that Indian audiences accept the film.

How long did it take Saroo Brierley to find his family using Google Earth?

After graduating from college and working on the web site for his parents' business, Saroo found himself longing to find his roots when he was healing from a bad breakup (he had spent years ignoring his past). It would take approximately six years of researching and studying Google Earth until he believed he found the area where he had lived as a child. He would stop periodically at times out of frustration. He had believed that he came from a suburb of Khandwa, India called Ginestlay. However, he eventually learned from an online Khandwa group that the suburb was likely Ganesh Talai. He had been mispronouncing it. -60 Minutes

This Google Map shows the Khandwa, India suburb of Ganesh Talai where Saroo was born. Click to explore.

Did the reunion happen like it does in the Lion movie?

The true story reveals that in February 2012, after 25 years of separation, Saroo Brierley traveled to his childhood home in the village of Ganesh Talai in the city of Khandwa, India. "I came to the doorstep of the house that I was born and walked around about 15 meters around the corner," says Saroo (like in the movie, he discovered that his mother did not live in the same home, but in a home a very short distance away). "There was three ladies standing outside adjacent to each other and the middle one stepped forward and I just thought, 'This is your mother.' She came forward. She hugged me, and we were there for about five minutes. She grabbed my hand and she took me into the house." She picked up the phone and called his sister and brother to tell them the news. Soon, his younger sister Shekila arrived, his brother Kullu, his niece and nephews, his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, etc. -Homeward Bound

Saroo's mom Fatima with her son (right) and actors Dev Patel and Priyanka Bose in the Lion movie (left).

After finding his family, did Saroo still remember how to speak the language he had known as a child?

As a child, Saroo had spoken Hindi. He did not remember much of the language, and after being reunited with his mother and family in India, he was only able to speak a few sentences.

Why is the movie called "Lion"?

When Saroo was reunited with his birth mother, he heard her say his name and realized he had been mispronouncing his own name all along. His given name is Sheru, which is Hindi for "lion." -A Long Way Home

Had Saroo's brother Guddu really been killed?

Yes. Shortly after being reunited with his mother and family, Saroo asked her where his older brother Guddu was, the brother he had been with at the train station 25 years earlier. His mother broke the news that Guddu's body had been found just a month after Saroo had disappeared. Guddu was discovered on the train track, his arm had been severed and he was missing an eye. It is believed that he died the very same night that he was supposed to come back and get Saroo, which might explain why he never returned. It is also possible that Guddu had returned after Saroo had panicked and boarded the train, prompting Guddu to go looking for him. Saroo's mother never found out exactly what caused Guddu to fall from the train. Did he lose his balance? Was he pushed? She had lost two sons in an instant. Saroo said that no pictures exist of his brother, only memories of him. -60 Minutes

Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) and Saroo (Sunny Pawar) in the Lion movie.

After being reunited with his birth family, did Saroo Brierley move back to India?

No, but after being reunited, he said that he hoped to build a relationship with Kamala, his birth mother (she changed her name to Fatima after converting to Islam). "This is where I live," Saroo said of Australia, where he has responsibilities and his adoptive family. "When I come back [to India], whether it's sooner or later, then we can start building our relationship again." Kamala wants to be with him but doesn't want him to move to Khandwa, where there is nothing. She contemplated moving to Australia but realizes it would be a huge change where no one could talk to her. He hopes to travel to India once or twice a year and keep in touch with her on the phone. He also sends her $100 a month for living expenses, which she was hesitant to accept.

"It's sort of taken a weight off my shoulders," said Saroo. "Instead of going to bed at night and thinking, 'How is my family? Are they still alive?' I know in my head now I can let those questions rest."

The real Saroo Brierley with his mom Sue Brierley (left) and his birth mother Fatima (right) in Khandwa, India.

Saroo Brierley Interviews, Documentary & Related Videos

Discover more details about the Lion true story by watching the Saroo Brierley documentary and interviews below. The real Saroo recounts the story of how he ended up lost in India, and with the help of Google Earth, was able to locate his birth mother a quarter century later.

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