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Oscars 2017: Lion filmed hectic India

LionAcclaimed feature film Lion shot on location in India to tell the true story of a lost Indian boy adopted by an Australian couple who as a young adult searched for his biological family.

Lion stars Dev Patel as adopted boy Saroo and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother Sue. The film was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.

The production team spent six weeks filming on location in India, shooting in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in eastern India, and in Madya Pradesh in the centre of the country.

Filming in Kolkata was a major challenge with shoot locations including the city’s teeming central station, the busy east-west Howrah Bridge and narrow alleyways by the Hugli River on the eve of a major cultural festival.

The producers worked with local servicing company Take One India – run by Pravesh Sahni – which has been involved with major shoots including Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and Kathryn Bigelow’s true-life terrorism feature Zero Dark Thirty. 

“Shooting on trains is quite difficult and we needed not just to be on trains, but to be able to control the way the train moved and to control whole stations, including Howrah Station in Kolkata, which is kind of like New York’s Grand Central Station but with literally millions of people,” says producer Angie Fielder.

LionThe team needed to partially close the bridge, which had never been done before.

“We had no sets,” Sahni tells KFTV. “We locked the main Howrah Bridge – a dream of the director which we fulfilled.”

India is renowned for its own thriving production industry but government bureaucracy and the lack of a filming incentive make it more of a challenge for international filmmakers. 

“The bridge had never been closed for filming even though films are made in Kolkata almost every week,” says Fielder. “It’s a huge steel bridge about the size of Sydney Harbour Bridge and always busy with cars at all hours of the day and night.

“We filmed between 2am and 4am on one night, and were allowed to close one side of the bridge. It is such an important scene and looks amazing in the film.”

For more on filming in India see our production guide.

Images: Long Way Home Productions/The Weinstein Company