Priyanka Bose had been waiting to tell the story of Lion for a long time. The film—nominated today for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture—tells the epic true tale of Saroo Brierly, the boy who was separated from his family on a train in India at age five, adopted by an Australian family, and then found his way home 25 years later by tracking down his village on then-nascent Google Maps technology. It’s directed by Garth Davis, and stars Dev Patel as Saroo, Rooney Mara as his girlfriend, Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother and Bose as his biological mother. Was Bose excited when she got the call about the project?
“Excited is an understatement,” she says. “I had actually read about Saroo’s story in a in a tabloid in India when it happened—and I remember that day so well. I was sitting with my cup of coffee in the morning reading and I’m like, wait a second, this is not real. This can’t be real. So I went online to find out more information, and I got obsessed with it, because this is insane. I said to myself, Hollywood should pick this up and I should be a part of the film. Two years later I got a call from this casting director saying, do you know about this story? I’m like ‘Uh, yeah!’”
Bose is starkly unforgettable in the film, young and tender and beautiful in the memories that haunt Saroo on his increasingly consuming quest to make his way back to her. In perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene, Saroo has made his way back to his village after years of searching, and is asking locals on the street to help him find his mother. A crowd begins to form, and finally he spots her. It’s the sort of movie moment that leaves viewers blubbering with total abandon, so it stands to reason that filming it was an emotional event in its own right.
“Because that scene was their reunion after an entire lifetime,’ Bose says, “Garth and me and Dev workshopped a lot prior, and Dev and I got to know each other very intimately, in a very beautiful way. Then Garth made sure we didn’t see each other for about four days. And that caused so much detachment anxiety—I had no idea I was going to go through that! Both Dev and I were in the same boat, but we went with it and then we finally saw each other on set. He was looking for me in the crowd, and I was looking for him, and then we saw each other, and it was quite gorgeous.”
This film was a breakthrough role for Bose, who says she has often struggled to find roles in India that offer the sort of depth she craves from a character.
“There is a dark hole sometimes,” she says, “because I have this hyper ambition about the type of artist or actor I want to be, and you know, in India, I’m not valued that much for this intensity. There are different ways of thinking and casting in Bollywood, and I’m not the prototype who has been say, a model turned wannabe actor—a beauty queen who’s come into acting. I sometimes I feel very left out because I’m just different in my sensibilities… but I keep beating the same drum saying, listen, look at me now, I am here to offer 110 percent. So when a project like Lion comes up I’m like okay, I’ve been waiting to exhale for all this time.’”
When we chatted with Bose she was back in her hometown of Mumbai—if only briefly before the hitting the road again to promote the film—so we had her give us a rundown on her favorite places in town.
Cup of Joe: This cafe called Leaping Windows is in a lovely neighborhood around the corner from my studio. It’s super convenient for my girly dates and meetings.
Date Night: Woodside Inn, a quaint little place behind my studio, is special because you’ll miss it if you are not paying attention. They make a good pear and walnut salad and a mushroom soup.
Don’t Miss: The Chor Bazaar. Chor means thief and bazaar means market; it’s fun and you get a lot of quaint things that make great memories.
Hidden Gem: The Koli Seafood Festival, which happens right in the middle of fish season [every January] in Mumbai. It’s exquisite and such a feast. The Kolis are the oldest fisher folks from the state who built the community of Mumbai. Fishing is a big and very serious business here.
Photo Credit: Shivaji Sen