Your news apps will have alerted you already: Dev Patel has been nominated for an Oscar. You’re probably feeling proud, and at the same furiously Googling Lion. What is it about? Not like Life of Pi, surely? But is it another Slumdog Millionaire? It is, kinda sorta.
Based on an autobiographical book written by Saroo Brierley, it’s about his search for his biological family, from whom he was separated at five. Though he was adopted by an Australian couple and grew up there, he was determined to find them again, using Google Earth to trace the fateful train journey that separated them in the first place.
Dev Patel’s portrayal of Brierley has won him a best supporting actor nomination; and understandably, Patel is freaking out. He told the LA Times, “It kind of hasn’t fully permeated my brain. I’m just so overwhelmingly grateful to the universe and the master of that universe, Garth Davis [director of Lion].”
Once he’s done, Patel will probably marvel at how life has come a full circle; he attended the Oscars in 2009, as part of the cast of Slumdog Millionaire, which also kick-started his Hollywood career.
While the movie has premiered in the US, UK and Australia, we will have to wait till February 24.
He’s No 3
He’s just the third Indian actor to receive an Oscar nomination – the other two were the Anglo-Indian actress Merle Oberon and the always superb Ben Kingsley – but he’s the only one of them not to have hidden his Indian roots. You will argue that time have changes. But not that much.
Oberon received her Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work in 1935’s The Dark Angel. She never won, but went on to act in movies such as A Song to Remember and Wuthering Heights, where she was paired with the legendary Laurence Olivier.
Yet she was determined to keep her ancestry and her roots hidden. She was believed to have been born in Australia, a rumour she denied only a year before she died. Such was the mystery surrounding her life it eventually became the subject of two short films – The Trouble With Merle and Queenie – and inspired New Zealand author Witi Ihimaera’s White Lies, which was also made into a film.
Each tried to unravel the mystery of Oberon’s birth, sifting through layers of obfuscation. Oberon was of British, Eurasian and Maori ancestry and born in Mumbai in 1911.
Kingsley too, was born Krishna Bhanji, to a Gujarati doctor and British mother with Russian Jewish blood, in the UK. But he told reporters he changed his name because: “It was a way to my first audition. My dad who is Indian was completely behind it. My first name, Ben, is my dad’s nickname. My second name, Kingsley, comes from my grandfather’s nickname, which was King Clove. It’s a bit late to change it back now.”
Kingsley earned his first Oscar nomination, as Best Actor, in 1982 for Gandhi (yes, that same movie aired on Indian TV on October 2, every year), and won it too. In fact, Gandhi went on to sweep the Oscars, with eight wins.
He picked up three more nominations – two as Best Supporting Actor for Bugsy in 1991, Sexy Beast in 2000 and Best Actor for House of Sand and Fog in 2003.
While we wait on see whether or not Patel’s Lion sweeps the Oscars like Kingsley’s Gandhi did 25 years ago, it’s heartening to see an India-centric film achieve recognition in an industry where Asians get only 3.9% speaking roles in film, according to this study that analysed diversity in popular films released between 2007-2015.
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Image courtesy: Dev Patel via Gordon Correll/Wikipedia