Lioness, the untold story of a mother’s love

Day 11: Another day, another book extract in our month of reading suggestions. Today's author, Sue Brierley, will be known to many readers as Saroo's adoptive mum. The story of the young man who used Google earth to track his birth mother in India was beautifully told in the book A Long Way Home and the movie Lion. In Lioness Sue Brierley tells us her story and explains why she chose to adopt two boys in need rather than have her own children.

 

 

 

Lioness by Sue Brierley.
Lioness by Sue Brierley.

Extract from Lioness

Stepping into another world

Being a mother to my sons has certainly taken me to places - worlds - I never thought I'd go, both emotionally and physically, and for better and worse. The next stage of our lives proved to be a bit of both.

I returned from India on 9 June 2013, totally exhausted. The trip had taken an emotional toll on me, but I was excited when Saroo, John and I went to Sydney two weeks later to watch the 60 Minutes episode go to air with the team who had spun our story into a work of journalism. I was very proud of what they created, as I watched on with my arms around Saroo and John.

Saroo's memoir, A Long Way Home, was published the following day and quickly became a bestseller, with various rights deals made for editions overseas, and it went on to sell more than a million copies worldwide.

After discussions between Saroo's manager, Andrew Fraser at Sunstar Entertainment, and film producers from a company called See Saw, a film contract had been signed to make a movie based on his book. We trusted we were in good hands: See Saw had produced the wonderful film The King's Speech, which had earned four Oscars in 2011, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, as well as being nominated in a raft of other categories.

Soon a script was being written by screenwriter Luke Davies, and Garth Davis was appointed as director. Garth had spent time with the 60 Minutes team, Saroo and me in India as story director and was very committed, considerate and professional. This was his debut feature-film project and we were thrilled he was involved, so things seemed to be looking hopeful.

Meanwhile, Saroo and I started having a bit of fun discussing our dream actors to play us in the film. He said he wanted Wesley Snipes and I told him I wanted Nicole Kidman, which I thought was nowhere in the realm of possibility - but she was my favourite Australian actor, so I put it out there, aloud, to the universe.

Once the screenplay had been written, it was showcased by the producers at the Marché du Film in Cannes, the annual film business market that occurs alongside the Cannes Film Festival.

On 14 May 2014, Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman, premiered at Cannes, and I remember catching a glimpse of her on television, shining on the red carpet. It was also my sixtieth birthday that day, and I was celebrating with John in Sydney. While we strolled along the Woolloomooloo Bay waterfront, we received an excited call from Andrew, telling us that Nicole Kidman had seen the screenplay of Lion being pitched at the Marché du Film, and she had expressed interest in taking on the role of Sue Brierley.

I was over the moon: Nicole Kidman wanted to play me! Before too much longer had passed, she was confirmed for the role. I took this as the best possible omen for the success of the film and as the weeks passed, the selection of the other actors was finalised.

David Wenham was to play John, Divian Ladwa would play Mantosh, and Dev Patel, who had starred in Slumdog Millionaire, would play Saroo as an adult. Priyanka Bose was chosen to play Fatima (she was referred to by her original name, Kamla Munshi, in the film), and there were many other talented international actors chosen. After a lengthy audition process of hundreds of boys in India, gorgeous Sunny Pawar, who came from a slum and had never acted before, was chosen to play the young Saroo.

On 29 August 2014, Saroo, John and I flew to Sydney to meet with See Saw Films. The film world was a new and daunting one for us, and it was particularly unnerving to be on the periphery of the decisions about how Saroo's story and our family were to be portrayed on screen. It has to be said that from that first meeting, the producers made us feel they were not interested in us having more than a cursory input in the process, while they were to retain control of the storytelling. Given we felt so vulnerable with them, I admit it ended up being a fraught process for us in terms of our dealings with See Saw. (The actors, on the other hand, were lovely and inclusive.)

Saroo, John and I tried to find out as much information as we could from the See Saw team, but soon realised we were completely out of our depth in understanding how the process of making a film worked. Perhaps this is a common experience for people whose stories and lives are portrayed on film, but it is difficult to feel alienated during the process when you're still a living, breathing human being and someone else is representing your story commercially.

It was a sensitive period for me because around this time - September 2014 - my mother passed away at eighty-seven. She was elderly, but her death wasn't expected. Mum and I had become very close in the last years of her life and I have missed her ever since. I am so glad she lived to see Saroo reunited with his family in India, then publishing his memoir that was now being made into a film that was sure to get a lot of attention in Hollywood due to its high-profile cast. Mum was a doting and proud grandmother with a special connection to both Saroo and Mantosh, and to Maria's two children, Tania and Jason.

My mother even stood in for her late son-in-law, Nick, and proudly gave away her beloved granddaughter, Tania, at her wedding, dressed in a beautiful deep teal lace gown. (Heartbreakingly, when I had taken Mum shopping for this dress in preparation for Tania's big day, she had told me she thought it was too good for her. She had subsequently worn it at her seventieth birthday celebration in 1997 and it was the dress she went to heaven in when we farewelled her at her funeral.)

My mother had been very happy to see her three great-granddaughters - Tania's daughters - have the benefit of the sort of loving and stable family that she wished she had been able to provide for her own three daughters, especially after moving from one side of the world to the other, away from her own mother, with the man she had married. I wish Mum's sacrifice could have had a better outcome and that she had enjoyed happiness in her youth rather than in her final two decades.

Lioness by Sue Brierley (RRP $34.99, Viking) is available now.


Man, 76, allegedly spent $200K on cannabis

Premium Content Man, 76, allegedly spent $200K on cannabis

A court has heard he travelled to Northern NSW to pick up 36kg of cannabis.

$10M spruce up of major secondary road underway

Premium Content $10M spruce up of major secondary road underway

Initial work on the back road between Coraki and Woodburn will take about a week.

30 silos, almost 13m high, proposed for Ballina Shire

Premium Content 30 silos, almost 13m high, proposed for Ballina Shire

The silos would be used for seasonal storage of local produce