Local boy who made Christmas come early before he died inspires Bollywood movie

A Bollywood film inspired by Evan Leversage was screened in St. George, Ont., the town that held Christmas early because the boy wouldn’t make it until Dec. 25.

'Uma' was screened in St. George Ont., the town that gave Evan Leversage one last Christmas

Evan Leversage rides in sleigh at a Christmas Parade in St. George, Ontario on Oct. 24, 2015. People in the town organized the parade for the boy who had an inoperable brain tumour. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The 7-year-old boy who made Christmas come early for an entire Ontario town has inspired, years after his death, a Bollywood movie.

His doctors, in 2015, told Evan Leversage's mom Nicole Wellwood that her boy might not last until Christmas. For five years Evan had been battling brain cancer.

Soon the whole town knew the devastating news. Then the people of St. George, Ont. decided that if Evan couldn't be there for Christmas, Christmas would be there for Evan. The town came together to make his one last wish come true.

Christmas came to St. George on Oct. 24, 2015. The town was decked with lights, decorations, carolers were singing, and fake snow covered the boy's home. 

Evan even rode with Santa through the streets in a parade, waving to thousands of people who came to celebrate.
Participants join a Christmas Parade in honour of Evan Leversage in St. George, Ontario on Saturday October 24, 2015. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Just a few weeks later, on Dec. 6, 2015, in the arms of his mother, Evan died. 

Almost three years close to his passing I'm doing all these things that are helping his legacy stay alive, which in turn I hope helps other children that are facing the same route as him.- Nicole Wellwood, Evan's mom

But that wasn't the end of his story.

Global attention

From very far away, award-winning director, Srijit Mukherji, was paying attention. He learned about Evan and St. George on Facebook.

Mukherji said "I thought the act was incredible." 

He said he thought what the town did was "Just this astonishing act of humanity because it is something which in today's day and time is quite rare."

The film is called Uma and it's set in India. 

Instead of St. George it's Kolkata, the capital of India's West Bengal state.

Instead of Evan, it's a young girl named Uma. Instead of a mother taking care of her son, it's a father. And instead of Christmas, it's the annual Hindu festival, Durga Puja, in honour of the goddess Durga. It marks her battle with the demon Mahishasura — a festival to celebrate the triumph of good over evil.

Ultimately, in St. George and in Kolkata, the villain in both stories is cancer. But the message, Mukherji says, is hope, inspiration, and the desire to fight even when you are in despair.

"It's incredible," Evan's mom said, "the fact that Evan's story in St. George was able to inspire an Indian filmmaker to make such an impacting movie."

"It's not necessarily his story, it's more he inspired Srijit to actually write this and I think it's more what he tried to aim for is the humanity aspect and what happens when a community or people come together and you know in the movie, which I love about it, he's added the obstacles," said Wellwood. "With Evan there were so many obstacles."

"He has put a lot of heart and passion into this movie."

Wellwood was flown to Kolkata in May for the premiere and said it was inspiring.

"I went to Kolkata thinking you know, I'm English. I don't understand Bengali. How am I actually going to understand this movie that's inspired by Evan in St. George and I got so captivated by the movie that the subtitles just seemed natural and it didn't even phase me," said Wellwood.
Evan Leversage's mom, Nicole Wellwood, was flown to Kolkata, India for the movie's premiere. (Evan's Journey with Childhood Cancer Evans Legacy Facebook page)

Sitting in the front row of the theatre over 12,000 kilometres from St. George, Wellwood said she thought, "how did life ever become the way it has been?" 

It's incredible, the fact that Evan's story in St. George was able to inspire an Indian filmmaker to make such an impacting movie.- Nicole Wellwood, Evan's mom

"Almost three years close to his passing I'm doing all these things that are helping his legacy stay alive, which in turn I hope helps other children that are facing the same route as him," Wellwood said.

"It's really moving because it has become something big and sometimes I don't even know how to process it because you know, this is three years after his passing and his legacy is stronger now than it was a day after his passing." 

A source of strength

After the official premiere, Wellwood says she went into theatres to surprise people at the beginning, or to speak with them after the movie and enjoyed that because "you got to see how impacting and moving the movie was."

The film ends with a tribute to Evan, a slideshow — her son in pictures.

"I kept it together," Wellwood said, "the whole entire movie and then at then end ... I was a mess."

Wellwood says she was contacted by Mukherji after he wrote the film, explaining why he wanted to make it and they kept in touch all along the way. They became friends. 

There's always going to be sadness, Wellwood says. "This biggest, hardest challenge has been how to move forward without Evan."

She says she felt lost and struggled with depression. It lasted for a year. After that, she started getting out of the house more. The movie has helped. 

"I'm doing things that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams because of Evan."

On Thursday, June 5 the town of St. George once again came together for Evan and held a screening of the film and Mukherji was there.


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