The 8-year-old Sunny Pawar was originally unable to attend the US premiere because he was denied a visa. Producers of the film made an appeal to Homeland Security, after which Pawar and his father were allowed to come to the US.
To internalize her character, Priyanka Bose went to Madhya Pradesh to meet Kamla Munshi, the mother her character was based on; "My questions were basic and just by meeting her, I could tell how hard her life has been. I got down on my knees and hugged her and thanked her for her courage". When meeting Munshi she was told that she was declared crazy by many villagers in the small town for years, as she never gave up hope that her son would return one day.
Google helped the production and gave the crew access to their satellite imagery to use in the film, providing them with versions of Google Earth from the correct time period, and providing a lot of technical support in order to shoot scenes featuring google in-camera, which saved the production a VFX budget.
Dev Patel had to develop a new physique to portray Saroo and attended several hours in the gym in order inhabit his part. He also grew a beard and developed an Australian accent (with Tasmanian dialect), visited Saroo Brierley's orphanage in India and wrote a diary while he took the original train ride that Brierley accidentally took as a young child. In total, he spent eight months preparing for the role.
Dev Patel's initial audition lasted six hours. There were concerns among the producers that he was too obvious a choice for a lead role with Indian heritage. This has also previously prevented Patel from possible roles, as he was refused an audition for "Life of Pi" and other parts.
The film was developed by Australian producers Andrew Fraser and Shahen Mekertichian. They stubbornly refused to change the Australian setting of the film to America and hereby received several rejections from American film production companies. By the time of release, the two producers will have spend four years on the film.
Nicole Kidman was handpicked by the real-life Sue Brierley for her part. Brierley suggested Kidman from the very first time the film adaptation was suggested to her and actually met with Kidman at her Sydney apartment to discuss the role. Both women forged a close bond in the course of their conversation after discovering that they were both deeply maternal and loved their adoptive and biological children in equal measures.
In India, over 80,000 children go missing each year and there are over 11 million children living on the streets. For the release of this film, the foundation #LionHeart was launched in collaboration between the production companies of this film, See-Saw Films and The Weinstein Company (TWC) and The Charity Network. It will provide financial support to the over 11 million children who live on the streets of India.
Garth Davis decided to unfurl the story in as linear a way as possible, avoiding flashbacks, even though it would feature very little dialogue in the first half of the film. WALL·E (2008) served as an inspiration for the director when he created the first half of the film. Later, when he discovered Sunny Pawar he felt the young actor was reminiscent of Charles Chaplin in his physicality and Davis knew he would be able to tell the first part of the story with as little dialogue as possible.
In order to insinuate memories from India while filming in Australia, Garth Davis would play Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar recordings of naturals sounds from the set in India, serve them food and display authentic Indian objects from the former filming locations.
Rooney Mara originally aimed to take a short break, when Garth Davis offered her the script and made her change her mind: "I read it and it was small part but I thought the script was just so powerful, moving and beautiful that I was like 'This is really supposed to be my time off but I want to talk to this guy.' And within talking to him for two minutes, I knew I was going to work with him."
Howrah Bridge was shut down by the crew in order to film a single scene. The bridge marks the highly-trafficked main artery between the east and west side of West Bengal, India, and this was the first time the bridge had ever been closed to public.
Partly filmed in Hobart, Tasmania, a rare location for film sets. With a crew of over 300 people and international funding, this film marks the biggest film production to take place on the Australian island. It's set to be released the same year as The Light Between Oceans (2016), partly filmed in Tasmania as well.
Despite playing the lead character, Dev Patel was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. This is because he does not appear until nearly an Hour into the film, and the studio felt he might have a better chance of getting nominated in the Supporting category. Nonetheless, some still felt that the decision was category fraud.
The real Sue Brierley was quite happy with the overall adaptation of her life except for the frumpish demeanor applied to Nicole Kidman's portrayal of her. Brierley was somewhat disappointed that none of the available clothing items she and Saroo actually wore were ever used in the production.
The movie was announced April 2013 and filming was originally set to begin in August 2014. However, it was postponed until January 2015. All scenes taking place in India were shot first, and the few scenes set in Australia, featuring Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman were shot in April 2015.
Of the casting of Sunny Pawar as Saroo Brierley, director Garth Davis said: "I had an emotional template for this character and, through the story, I could feel the spirit of this kid. So I knew who I was looking for but it was very sobering to think about what we had to achieve. Children generally can be good actors from about the age of eight but it is difficult to find a five year old capable of acting. But I knew it was important to have a small boy. It is visually very powerful having a tiny boy lost in the world and a boy who had the resilience and the patience to cope with the demands of the lead role in a film." Davis continued: "I just kept coming back to Sunny. I would put a camera lens on him and he just felt like the boy I had been feeling. I needed a boy who in his natural state could give me 80% of the performance, someone with a look behind his eyes, a history, a quality that's beautiful to look at...and Sunny had that in spades. He could just sit in a room with the cameras on him and those of us watching would get lost in his story, in his face. At the same time there was something darker, something interesting going on." Davis added: "He was one of those special kids. So then the question was: 'Can we do a scene with him?. Can he take direction?. Can he cry?. Can he scream?. Does he have strength?. Can he withstand direction?.' He did all of that and more." Davis concluded: "There was a certain point, maybe a week into the shoot, where he became an actor...where it was clear he was putting together different emotional ideas. It was absolutely extraordinary recognizing that he was bringing something to his performance that we weren't asking him to do."
To better look like the real Saroo Brierley who is tall and strong after a lifetime in the Australian outdoors, actor Dev Patel embarked on a punishing weight and food regime, to add bulk and muscle. He also worked with a dialect coach to perfect the notoriously difficult Australian accent.
Having heard of the vital role that 'Google Earth' played in Saroo Brierley's search for home, the Google company invited the real-life Saroo to speak at an international conference, where he met the company's chairman, Eric Schmidt. Google assisted the producers throughout filming ensuring authenticity of the scenes in which Saroo searches for his Indian birthplace using 'Google Earth'.
The A.R. Rahman song "Urvasi" from the movie Kadhalan (Humse Hain Muqabla) is featured in the film, composed by AR. Rahman. The song appears when Dev Patel is walking on the street flirting and smiling.
Of the film's story, structure, and narrative, producer Emile Sherman said: "The more traditional structure would have been to start with Saroo in Australia, for it to be the story of a western man who suddenly has memories of the past, and to cut back and forth as he searches for home. We battled long and hard with the structure and ultimately decided to go for a more epic one, letting the audience fully experience young Saroo's life in India upfront. Starting with his family life, through the moment he steps onto the wrong train, onto his life on the streets of Kolkata, we are with young Saroo as his story unfolds. The enormous power of this experience is then felt throughout the Australian section, and we can then fully appreciate his emotional pull back to his birth mother."
First footage of the film debuted to audiences at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival among a show-reel of Weinstein Company's upcoming films. The first rough cut of the film was shown to a limited press screen audience at the Sundance Film Festival.
Actor Dev Patel campaigned hard to win the part portraying the adult Saroo and confirmed that he chased the role. Patel convinced director Garth Davis and the movie's producers that cinema audiences had yet to see the range he was capable of performing. Patel said he had never read a script so enchanting: "It encapsulates triumph. It's such a hopeful story about this kid's will to survive and to find his family again. What particularly drew me to the role was that it is a very contemporary character and also that the story has complex family dynamics. It's a beautiful role."
Australian TV-personality Todd Sampson filmed a small part as a university professor, making this his feature film debut. He previously appeared on the ABC TV show "Gruen" in which he discussed co-star Nicole Kidman's choice to appear in commercials.
The classic song "Come Closer" from Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, is featured in the film. The song appears when Noor is feeding Saroo at the dinner table. The song was originally sampled from the song "Body Talk" by Imagination.
Of actress Nicole Kidman's casting and first involvement in the film,director Garth Davis said: "I met Nicole in New York and we just talked and cried and talked and cried... she knew everything about Sue in the way that I knew it. It just felt great. I just loved working with Nicole and being around her. She's super professional, super prepared. She'd ask me really, really smart questions along the way. She's a very hard working actress. But most of all I really enjoyed how brave she was. She's kind of wild to watch, kind of method and just really commits to the character. And then she was just really lovely on set, down to speaking to the neighbors who were peering over the fence watching us filming. She is very inclusive and very loving...and also brilliant."
Young Saroo's close relationship with his older brother Guddu is a critical emotional thread through the film. In his first acting role, the character of Guddu is played by Abhishek Bharate. Director Garth Davis explained: "In casting for Guddu, I felt that the character just had to be pure light, he had to shine. When I was in India looking at locations, I was in a small village, and saw a boy standing on the roof of his house. He was everything I thought Guddu to be. He had a kind of Indigenous quality, an old world feeling, and a light that shone from him. I did test this boy and although he wasn't right for the role, he became symbolic for me in the search for the right boy to play the role. Abhishek came in and it was instant, he had a smile that just killed you. He's like the sun on your face, when he's around you, you just feel his energy."
Of the casting of Sunny Pawar as Saroo Brierley, producer Angie Fielder said: "Sunny went from being a young boy who had no idea about acting to a total pro who understood everything about what he was doing and was completely in control of his performance. And I think you can see on screen that he's not wandering around looking at things, he's feeling things. I remember one important scene where Saroo's older brother is arrested and Sunny started crying as we were shooting - they are real tears, there was no make up involved. He was genuinely crying because he was so emotionally involved in the scene."
When See-Saw Film's Emile Sherman and Iain Canning first heard the true story of Saroo Brierley's journey to find his childhood home and birth mother they immediately sensed that it could make an extraordinarily powerful feature film.
Iain Canning, one of the film's producers, said: "It is an incredible true story. As soon as we heard it we felt that we had to go after it. Emile and I read an early manuscript of Saroo's memoir and it has, without question, one of the most incredible endings in Saroo finally finding home."
A bidding war occurred for the film rights to Saroo Brierley's story and book "A Long Way Home" which production house See-Saw Films won based on the company's track record for quality films (e.g. (The King's Speech, Shame, Top Of The Lake) and the producers' commitment to making a film that was authentic and international in ambition.
Of actor Devl Patel's first involvement with the film, director Garth Davis said: "Dev heard we were making the film very early on, when we were still writing. He pulled up one day at [screenwriter] Luke Davies' house in Los Angeles [in Califorbnia, USA] where we were working, walked in, and introduced himself. He was very passionate about the role. Eventually, we did a four and a half hour screen test in London, literally bare feet and a handheld camera - and I pushed and pushed Dev to see how far he could go with this character. We needed a soul that shined and that is Dev!."
Producers Iain Canning and Angie Fielder recalled meeting the real life Saroo Brierley and their first impressions of him. Fielder said: "When you meet Saroo you get a sense of how he managed to survive on the streets of Kolkata as a five year old. There is something about him as a person that is very resilient and industrious and confident. At the same time he's a quintessential Aussie guy with a larrikin sense of humor." Whilst Canning said: "I was very taken by how family orientated he is, both with his Australian family and with his birth family in India. At the time, he was genuinely surprised that his journey had captured the public's imagination, and had also captured the imagination of Google."
"It's one of those stories where it is virtually impossible not to move people when you talk to them about it. It's an incredible story that gives everyone tingles up their spine. It taps into something primal in us as human beings - the need to find home and the need to know who you are," producer Emile Sherman said.
Impressed by director Garth Davis' stunning work on the 'Top of the Lake' television series, producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning didn't hesitate to offer him the opportunity to direct this movie. Sherman said: "We followed our instincts. We felt Garth, although he hadn't yet made a feature film, was exactly the right director for the film. He's incredibly cinematic and can create real visual scope. At the same time he's just brilliant with actors. He creates such intimacy in his work and we wanted to make sure this felt raw and real."
Producer Angie Fielder from Aquarius Films, was invited to join the producing team. Fielder and producer Emile Sherman had been looking for a project to work on together. Before he had even spoken to her about the film, Angie had discovered Saroo Brierley's story in a press article and been captivated by it. Fielder said: "When Emile told me he had secured the rights to Saroo's book, it took me about two seconds to decide that I wanted to do it. And then he told me that Garth Davis was attached to direct. I had long been an admirer of Garth's work so the idea of the film was very exciting." Fielder continued: "You couldn't make Saroo's story up, it's so extraordinary. It has all of the stuff of great cinema - it has adventure and peril, it traverses continents, it travels across time. And his journey is deeply, deeply emotional. What also makes it incredibly cinematic is that the story is so ultimately satisfying. After years of being without his biological family and years of searching he actually, amazingly, like a needle in a haystack, found his way home."
Determined to honor the truth of the story, director Garth Davis traveled to India while developing the film where he spent time in Kolkata (Calcutta) and also at Saroo Brierley's childhood home village. Davis was there in the village when Saroo's birth mother Kamla and adoptive mother Sue met for the very first time. Some of the filming of the picture took place in the village and Saroo's family were welcome visitors to set on several occasions. Screenwriter Luke Davies also made his own journey to India.
Of filming in Kolkata (Calcutta) and also at Saroo Brierley's childhood home village, director Garth Davis said: "It was important for me to just walk in Saroo's reality as much as possible and so I literally retraced his steps as best as I could. I walked around his village by myself and imagined being a little boy growing up in that area. I sat on a bench at the Burhanpur Train Station where he woke up alone, and then on to Kolkata and the main train station, Howrah, where the full force of the story really hit me. I have my own kids and to imagine a five year old alone there, unable to speak the language...that's when I knew this was going to be a really powerful film."
Of the casting of actor Dev Patel as the adult Saroo, producer Emile Sherman said: "We knew we had to cast a Western actor of Indian heritage rather than an actor from India, to ensure the accent was correct. Saroo himself is very much an Australian man. We always had Dev in mind. He just blew us away in his screen test. He's a wonderful actor, but he's also so likeable, so warm and so much fun. We knew we were in the hands of an actor who'd be able to take the audience on a very emotional journey. Dev really embraced that and exceeded all of our extremely high expectations." Prodcuer Iain Canning added: "Dev brings an incredible depth to this role, beyond anything we've ever seen him do before on screen. I truly believe this film will establish him as a leading actor of gravitas and maturity."
After meeting the real Sue Brierley at her home in Hobart in the southern island state of Tasmania in Australia, director Garth Davis knew he wanted actress Nicole Kidman to play her. He said: "I was spending a lot of time with Sue and one day, while she was talking to me, it just dropped into my head 'that's Nicole Kidman'. Serendipitously, as we were going off casting around the world, we had a note saying that Nicole had managed to get her hands on the script, had read it, and was very keen to talk."
Coincidentally, screenwriter Luke Davies had read Saroo Brierley's story online just days before producer Emile Sherman approached him and he too was riveted by it. Davies said: "It's such an incredibly moving story. And it's a primal story - the loss of the mother and reunification with the mother. At that mythic level it's amazing, but at an actual human level of 'this really happened to this kid'. The opportunity to take a script to some very emotional places is for a writer the most exciting thing."
Director Garth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies collaborated closely and intensely on this film, experimenting with ideas, including the film's structure. Questions that were asked were 'Would it be told in flashback or as a linear narrative?' and 'How do you honor the truth of the story but tell it in a way that is satisfying for a cinematic audience?'.
One of the great challenges of the film was to find an Indian boy to play five year old Saroo. Producer Angie Fielder said that the Indian production team worked closely with schools and parents in several large cities in India in their search for the right boy for the role. They screen tested thousands of children and each child who was considered to have acting potential was filmed and the tests sent back to Australia. Fielder, director Garth Davis, drama coach Miranda Harcourt, and casting director Kirsty McGregor then traveled to India to work with the shortlisted children, including Sunny Pawar, who in the end was chosen to play Saroo Brierley.
Production began in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta) in January 2015. Dev Patel, who played the adult Saroo, arrived early in the shoot to film the scenes of reunion with Saroo's birth mother.
Producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman approached Garth Davis to direct the film while at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 for the world premiere of their 'Top of the Lake' television series which was co-directed by Davis with Jane Campion, who also co-wrote the series. Both directors were nominated for an Emmy Award for their work on 'Top of the Lake'.
The Weinstein Company acquired the film at script stage at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival where they also closed the deal for worldwide distribution excluding Australia and New Zealand. Transmission Films was the Australian and New Zealand distributor whilst the picture was co-financed by Screen Australia and Fulcrum Media Finance.
Nicole Kidman sweetly congratulated fellow Academy Award nominee, Isabelle Huppert, with a gracious kiss on the hand at Paris Fashion Week. The pair were snapped together at the Giorgio Armani Privé Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2017 show following the Oscar nominees announcement.
Producer Iain Canning said: "This is a film about family, about those deep bonds that never go away, that underpin our lives. [Director] Garth [Davis] feels those bonds. He is a director who is not afraid of emotions. He embraces the emotion but does it in a way that is real and fresh and edgy. He also has a spiritual side - there is a sense of fate in this film. It's about destiny and hope and we knew that Garth would bring out those resonances in a way that another director might not have been so finely tuned to do." Canning continues: "On set Garth is a real leader, not just in terms of the specifics of performance but also because tonally he brings such a human warmth and energy to everything. People feel safe and very comfortable with him and are therefore able to explore the highs and the lows of the human experience."
Producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman both had previously worked with screenwriter Luke Davies on Anton Corbijn's 'Life' (2015) and also on the filmed adaption of his novel 'Candy' (2006). Canning said: "Having worked with Luke on two previous films, we felt that he had the right sort of emotional sensibility to tackle this story."
Footage from when the real Sue Brierley meets Saroo's birth mother for the first time is shown before the end credits. Director Garth Davis was actually present during the meeting and shot the footage because he was involved with the 60 Minutes Special on the story.