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Dev Patel’s Amazing Journey From ‘Skins’ to ‘Lion’

Track down Dev Patel’s evolution from a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ to a roaring ‘Lion’. 

Updated
Entertainment
6 min read
Dev Patel’s Amazing Journey From ‘Skins’ to ‘Lion’

Dev Patel, a boy who grew up in London with Gujarati-Indian parents who were born and brought up in Kenya, is the true definition of a global citizen. At the age of 16, he first got recognition for his role in Skins (2007), a British teen comedy drama that dealt with issues like eating disorders and depression, plaguing the teens of Bristol. The part of Anwar Kharral was specifically written for Patel, after he was cast into the show.

Dev Patel in a still from Skins.
(Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
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Somewhere along the way came Danny Boyle with his Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, and Patel, who is from Rayners Lane, admits he has been longing to do the role of a modern guy since. He struggled to find significant roles since most casting agents and directors saw him as the quintessential Indian stereotype, and not as the British Indian man he is.

Dev Patel and Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire.
(Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

This narrowed down the roles he got offered to sidekicks and/or the role of a techie. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t ace these roles. As one notices him play the role of Neal Sampat in Newsroom, the actor seamlessly portrays the role of a writer and techie with an innate ease that is fluid and unerring.

The cast of The Newsroom.
(Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
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As every actor there ever was, Dev too has had some regrets. M Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, 2010, is surely one regret and Dev has been quite vocal about it. Shyamalan has had more flops that he’s had successes, and unfortunately, The Last Airbender was one of the former. The film was rejected by the audience, which was already niche to begin with. It is noteworthy that though the film bombed at the box office, Dev’s portrayal of the Prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko, was actually applauded. But the actor has another story to tell, as he recalls the experience of watching himself onscreen, and not even recognising himself, as if he was seeing a stranger that he couldn’t relate to.

Dev Patel as Prince Zuko in The Last Airbender.
(Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
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Dev Patel now knew what kind of scripts he should pick up, and what followed was a slew of successes that he shined in. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Dev was surrounded by a host of talents including leading British actors, such as Dame Judi Dench. He played the role of an over-eager, ever-ready-to-please hotel manager, Sonny. It would be wrong of me to say that this was a role that demanded an Indian stereotype, because Dev played it to perfection. His wasn’t a minor role as most would suggest. He was the nexus that held a group of old pensioners together. The film’s theme also had something to do with the wild success it garnered. It was about the older generation, a group that is often neglected in cinema.

Dev Patel with Dame Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
(Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
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During Slumdog Millionaire, the two co-stars i.e., Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, started dating. Their relationship lasted almost six years, before the couple split, though the breakup was nothing if amicable. The age gap between the two (that of 6 years) has been widely cited as the reason for their split in 2014. However, out of mutual respect for each other’s privacy, the ex-couple refrain on commenting on the split. Both maintain that they are still good friends.

She has been one of the most impactful people on my life. We shared a very beautiful experience together, not only cinematically, but personally so I’ll always have great respect for her.
Dev Patel, about his ex, Freida Pinto. 
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In Lion, the actor essays the role of an Indian-Australian businessman Saroo Brierley, who, as a child, was lost in the vastness of the Indian landscape after accidentally separating from his family at a railway station. Eventually, Saroo tries to locate his Indian family with the help of Google Maps, much to the dismay of his adoptive Australian mother, played by Nicole Kidman. The story seems almost fantastical, and one would have a difficult time believing that it actually happened, except for the fact that it did.

It was such a beautiful, profound script, and the fact that it is all based on a real story makes it even more incredible. As soon as I got the role, I called my manager and said for the next eight months I don’t want to do anything else but commit every fibre of my being to getting the journey right.
Dev Patel, in an interview with the RadioTimes
On the verge of rediscovery in Lion.
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Dev prepared for this role extensively. Apart from researching and travelling in India, he also had to alter his physical form and went from the lanky boy in Slumdog, to a beefy Aussie that can survive the Outback. Along with that, he also worked on a proper Australian accent to bring further authenticity to the role.

I was travelling the trains and seeing the landscape change and getting a taste of the isolation he would have felt. I also visited orphanages and wrote a diary – all of that went into trying to make the character feel truthful.
Dev Patel, in an interview with the Radio Times
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The first half of the film is set in India, with no known actors who speak in the local dialect of Hindi and Bengali. Juxtaposing a cruel twist of fate with modern technology, the film binds the rural landscape of Madhya Pradesh with the metropolitan Melbourne, creating the perfect ambiance for a modern expedition into the past. The film, to the non-natives, is only comprehensible because of subtitles. This sets up certain barriers for the film to be accepted by global audiences, but just like Slumdog did, Lion too breaks that mould.

A lot of the film was in subtitles, there were no real known actors and yet it was a success, so that created a new narrative in the industry.
Dev Patel, in an interview with the Radio Times
Lost.

Dev Patel seems to have joined the new league of actors that are hell-bent on bringing diversity to a predominantly white silver screen. And rightfully so, as Meryl Streep, in her Golden Globes speech mentioned, “...Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

(This post is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 26 January, 2017. It is being republished to mark Dev Patel’s birthday.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Lion   Dev Patel   Slumdog Millionaire 

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