His lat­est role in biopic Lion sees Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire star Dev Pa­tel morph into an Aussie – com­plete with MasterChef-in­spired ac­cent

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - HOLLY BYRNES

If Dev Pa­tel had any fears of be­ing up­staged in the heart­warm­ing hit film Lion, it wasn’t Os­car win­ner Ni­cole Kid­man he had to worry about. While the Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire and The News­room favourite was in awe of how Kid­man went about her busi­ness – both on set and dur­ing the re­cent in­ter­na­tional road trip to sell the lo­cal film to the world – Pa­tel con­cedes they both found them­selves hap­pily in the shad­ows of new­comer, Sunny Pawar. The eight-year-old, who shares the role of Sa­roo Bri­er­ley with Pa­tel, proved this year’s Ja­cob Trem­blay, of Room fame, at the Golden Globe awards, charm­ing the A-list crowd and win­ning hearts the world over with his ma­ture-be­yond-hisyears per­for­mance.

In his first ever act­ing role, Pawar plays a five-year-old Sa­roo in the true story of a lit­tle In­dian boy lost on a train, who is taken far from his birth fam­ily, only to be adopted by an Aus­tralian cou­ple (Kid­man and David Wen­ham).

Pa­tel, who plays Sa­roo as a young man in search of his iden­tity and first home, shared scenes with Pawar; devel­op­ing an in­stant “big brother” bond.

“We all be­came so pro­tec­tive over him, we all love him so much,” Pa­tel says.

“He’s our lit­tle mas­cot on this movie.

“For him, he’d never been on a plane be­fore or seen a Hol­ly­wood film and now he’s lead­ing this big movie. He’s so beau­ti­fully in­no­cent and that’s why you get such a beau­ti­ful per­for­mance from him. He’s just re­ally en­joy­ing it.”

Get­ting to know the real Sa­roo Bri­er­ley was even more re­ward­ing, Pa­tel says.

As the film moved its pro­duc­tion from Kolkata, In­dia, to Melbourne and Tas­ma­nia back in 2015, Pa­tel was able to meet with Bri­er­ley, now a busi­ness­man liv­ing in Ho­bart, over a break­fast date.

“I was com­pletely ner­vous, just th­ese whole waves of anx­i­ety. We’d done the big­gest scene al­ready (back in In­dia, where adult Sa­roo searches for his fam­ily’s vil­lage) and I was think­ing, ‘I hope he ac­cepts me, I hope he likes me’. But as soon as we sat down, we just con­nected.

“I’d spent so long in his shoes, it felt like I’d know him al­ready.”

While his Aus­tralian ac­cent has al­ready earned him head­lines (train­ing for eight months with a Syd­ney di­alect coach Jenny Kent, as well as tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from MasterChef Aus­tralia judge Ge­orge Calom­baris), the in­ter­nal strug­gle Sa­roo goes through – wrestling with mem­o­ries of the fam­ily he knew as a child, then lost – was in­formed by Pa­tel’s meet­ing with the man him­self.

“We spoke about this idea of guilt, what it’s been like for him to be liv­ing this amaz­ing life when his mother and brother could still be back there (in In­dia) suf­fer­ing, search­ing for him ev­ery day. There’s a lot of my part of the film, which is about pain and about iden­tity, and it’s a re­ally in­ter­nalised space, but it’s re­ally ex­pos­ing.

“It was re­ally amaz­ing to sit down with him and hear him speak about that ex­pe­ri­ence,” Pa­tel says.

The re­mark­able way Bri­er­ley even­tu­ally found his way home was a mo­ment of syn­chronic­ity – his des­per­ate search to find­ing the hu­man equiv­a­lent of a nee­dle in a haystack, timed with the launch of Google Earth back in 2005, which al­lows users to search al­most any­where in the world us­ing in­ter­ac­tive maps. What Pa­tel found even more com­pelling was how Bri­er­ley said he’d con­jured up this same abil­ity in his own head.

“He told me about this con­cept of ‘as­tral trav­el­ling’, which I’d never heard of be­fore,” he says.

“He said: ‘when my mother Sue would put me to bed, my heart would start rac­ing and it felt like I was com­ing out of my body and I was hov­er­ing in the air. Then I would find my­self over In­dia and in this dream­like state I’d ma­te­ri­alise on the streets, next to my mother and brother. I would do that ev­ery night and I’d wake up ex­hausted, sweat­ing, like I’d ac­tu­ally been run­ning on those streets’.”

Then, Pa­tel ex­plained, “this app came out, Google Earth, which par­al­leled what he was do­ing in his brain”.

“He would hover over In­dia, then all of a sud­den zoom in and I was like, ‘wow, that’s re­ally cool’.

“As­tral trav­el­ling is a thing and you can read about it ... this idea that your soul can phys­i­cally go some­where.” Lion is show­ing in all ma­jor cin­e­mas from to­day

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