Lion features a cast of high-profile actors like Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Dev Patel, Deepti Naval, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tannishthha Chatterjee, but all of them came on board without their baggage of stardom, says director Garth Davis.
The movie is based on India-born Australian businessman Saroo Brierley’s non-fiction work A Long Way Home -- a memoir in which he relates how he found his birth mother over two decades after he was accidentally separated from her and his family.
Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel play Saroo in the movie, which has been nominated for multiple categories at the Oscars and BAFTAs.
Asked about how it was to direct an icon like Kidman and an amateur like Sunny in the same scene, Davis said all actors were treated equally.
“Nobody acted like a Hollywood star in my film. In fact, the atmosphere on set was also very normal, and there was no hero-worshipping. But yes, for Sunny, because he was so young and faced the camera for the first time, we had an extensive preparation for him,” Davis told IANS in an interview during his visit to India.
To create a comfort zone and give a clear idea of the story, the production team created a children’s version of the story in the form of a pictorial book for Sunny. It helped Sunny to not only understand his part but also contributed to his performance in the film, which will release in India on February 24.
After a successful career as an Australian television and commercial director, receiving Emmy nominations for the Top of the Lake in 2013, making a feature film was an obvious next step for Davis. But what kept him away for so long?
“I do not have a definite answer for that, really. I should have been doing it (feature film) a lot earlier. I have a family, which is my responsibility. And filmmaking is a massive commitment.
“So, I wanted to make sure that the film is very special. You know, filmmaking is not a job but a social responsibility for me. Therefore, the story has to be meaningful and move people from within,” he added.
He found the story of Lion so heart-warming that he made a trip to India as soon as he read it -- even before it was published as a book in 2014.
“There was something magical about the story. So, I immediately came to India when Saroo met his birth mother after 25 years. You see, experiencing that moment was important for me to understand the reactions of these characters that one cannot get from the book,” Davis said.
As he started his research work, travelling and finding real-life inspiration based on the truth of the story, it was as if the story had begun a new journey -- from book to script, and then transformed into a film.
“I’m a very observant director by nature; so I observed the finest of details. I noticed how little boys in villages, walking down the street in a group, put their arms on each other’s shoulders. You know, that is their way to express emotional bonding, friendship, comforting each other,” he said with a smile.
A lot of filmmakers say movies are often a reflection of the culture in the region they come from, and many foreigners attempt to know India through its films’ dance-and-music culture. But it was not so for Davis.
“You see, most of the available Indian films in Australia are Bollywood. I did not watch them. In my early days, I watched Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, which was a beautiful take on social realism. Nevertheless, for Lion, I did not watch a lot of Indian films. I went through some photographs of 1980s (Lion starts from that period). And you know what? Nothing much has changed here (in Kolkata), except the energy of the city,” he said.
The film was shot in Kolkata and Bhopal.
“I just love walking down the street in these places, observing people and after a hard day, treat me with chilli garlic naan, along with a slice of raw onion, and chilled beer... I will be the happiest man,” he signed off.
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