Hollywood blockbuster Lion is based on the true life story of Saroo Brierley (already told once in his 2013 bestselling book A Long Way Home) starring Dev Patel as Saroo, and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother Sue.

Dev Patel & The Oscar Nomination For Lion

Hollywood blockbuster Lion is based on the true life story of Saroo Brierley (already told once in his 2013 bestselling book A Long Way Home) starring Dev Patel as Saroo, and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother Sue.

Trailer of ‘Lion’

The Real Life Indian Boy That Dev Patel Plays

Saroo's life in a small village in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, changed dramatically overnight when he fell asleep on a train that took him more than 1,500 kilometres across India – penniless, hungry and alone – at just five years of age, into the busy, bustling city of Kolkata.

Dev Patel, who was nominated for an Academy Award for actor in a supporting role for his part in Lion, told the Los Angeles Times: “I’m gonna get in the car, and then I’m gonna go get in the shower and probably break down. I’ve been holding it in. I need a good cry in the shower.”

It has been an intense portrayal for the Slumdog Millionaire kid who is now a young man. But the real-life Saroo’s journey has been more dramatic than a Bollywood Salim-Javed lost-and-found 1980s saga of separated siblings.

The True Life Story of Saroo Brierley

Saroo was born Sheru Munshi Khan in the Ganesh Talai neighbourhood of Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. His father left his mother, throwing the family of a young woman, three boys and one girl into poverty.

When Saroo arrived at his adoptive home. (Photo: Facebook)

Kamla Munshi, Saroo’s mother, worked in construction to support herself and her children but could barely feed them all. She also could not afford to send them to school.

Saroo was barely five when his older brothers Guddu and Kallu began begging at the railway station for food and money. Guddu would also sweep the floors of train carriages.

One such evening, Guddu said he was going to ride the train from Khandwa to the city of Burhanpur, 70 kilometres to the south. Saroo tagged along for the first time.

By the time the train reached Burhanpur, Saroo was so tired he collapsed onto a seat on the platform. Guddu told his little brother to rest there and not move until the elder sibling was back.

The international bestseller from Penguin. (Photo Courtesy: Saroo Brierley (Official) FB page)

Guddu did not return soon as promised and an impatient Saroo boarded an empty carriage of a train that he found standing on the station.

Soon he fell asleep. When he woke up, the train was travelling across unfamiliar countryside.

Occasionally the train stopped at small stations but Saroo was unable to open the door to escape.

From Khandwa & Burhanpur to Kolkata

The rail journey eventually ended at the huge Howrah railway station in Kolkata. Saroo did not know it at the time, but he was nearly 1,500 kilometres from his hometown, the name of which he would soon forget.

Lost, unable to speak Bengali, a tiny Saroo spent time on railway stations and streets before being taken to the notorious government centre Liluah.

(Photo Courtesy: Saroo Brierley (Official) FB page)

Soon he was moved to the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption (ISSA), where staff attempted, without luck, to find his family. It was here that he came into the attention of the founder and director, Saroj Sood, who first connected Saroo to Sue and John Brierley of Tasmania, soon to become his adoptive parents.
From India to Australia

Saroo Brierley was brought up by his Australian adoptive parents John and Sue Brierley who had also adopted another Indian kid. Saroo tells Sydney Morning Herald:

Life as a kid in Australia. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Fortunately for me my new Mum, Sue, had researched carefully how to rehabilitate poverty-stricken children and she provided me with exactly the care I required and so much love. 

-Saroo Brierley

Mum and Dad had waited 16 years for adoption laws to change in their home state, Tasmania, so that they could apply to the authorities to create the family of their dreams. I am so thankful for their endurance and patience. Who knows what would have happened to me if they hadn’t miraculously appeared when I needed them most?

How Saroo Found His Birth Mother

So Sheru Munshi Khan was now Saroo Brierley and grew up as a typical Australian kid in Tasmania. But Saroo always thought and wondered about his lost family back in India.

As a young adult, he began an extensive search via Google Earth over many months, which miraculously led to him locating first the train station where he fell asleep, and then his childhood village.

His adoptive parents Sue and John Brierley supported his search and endeavour. Saroo first zeroed in on Burhanpur, as he could recall only B, the first alphabet of the station’s name. He contacted some Facebook groups and later flew to India.

He travelled to the village, was able to trace his memories through the dusty lanes and was finally able to locate the door of the home he'd left 25 years earlier. It was abandoned.

Finally! (Photo: Facebook)

Saroo showed a photo of himself as a child to several people standing nearby, repeating the names of his mother, brothers and sister.

Within just minutes, they led him to Kamla, his birth mother, whom he hadn't seen for more than 25 years.

They were poor but Kamla had been able to give some school education to the surviving children.

Guddu had been runover by a train and had died the night he was separated from Saroo.

The surviving brother Kallu is now a manager in a factory and the sister is a school teacher. Saroo has visited India over 14 times and has even bought his birth mother a house.

This story of lost and found has found some closure and a few happy moments. Not all of the thousands of kids lost or separated from their parents in India every year have such fates.

Celebrity anchor Oprah Winfrey was so impressed with Lion, the film on Saroo’s life, she told the world to go watch the film, almost a month before the Oscar nominations brought the spotlight on it.

But we hear Sunny Pawar, the kid who plays the five-year-old Saroo, is stealing the limelight across America now.

Stephen Gets Starstruck Meeting 'Lion' Star Sunny Pawar

'Lion's' Breakout Child Star Sunny Pawar Recounts His Road To Hollywood

Lion received six nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Dev Patel, Best Supporting Actress for Nicole Kidman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Australian Luke Davies and Best Cinematography for his countryman Greig Fraser.


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