Synopsis – A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
My Take – Being from India, a developing country, where most of the population despite all the innovations & development still remains below the poverty line. It’s quite common to see poor dust ridden children walking around streets usually begging or doing odd jobs or just simply playing. But what we don’t know is the story behind them like are they lost or just heading home. Unfortunately, most of them either end up dead or in the hands of heartless people who use children for various illegal / unethical operations. This film movie explores some great themes: What happens to lost children in developing countries? How do poor, illiterate citizens of a country go about finding their lost children who helps them? What are the dangers faced by these lost children? Why do certain people choose to adopt? How do adopted children adapt to their surroundings? Especially when they’re transplanted so many miles away from home where they do not even speak the language! Do children every fully recover from traumatic childhood experiences? Does one forget their original family if they never see them again after the age of 5? As an adopted child do you ever completely feel like you fit into your new life? What is the bond with your adoptive parents like? The film touches upon all these themes while primarily being about the miraculous yet physical and emotional journey of a young man finding his way back home with very few clues to work with. As a boy, Saroo Brierley was torn from his family through a series of unfortunate coincidences and taken into a new and loving home, only to, decades later, chart his way back to a place he’d basically forgotten. This couldn’t be more timely- reminding us that there really is so much love and good in the world , the fact that one boy survived this situation and went on to tell his story is very inspiring and this fantastic film did justice to showing it on screen. The story follows a 5-year-old boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar), who lives with his poor yet happy family in a village near Khandwa in 1980s India. On an excursion with his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) from his small town to a nearby rail station, Saroo gets separated from him and climbs onto a train car by mistake. The train, and Saroo, is then taken almost a thousand miles across the country to Kolkata, where he doesn’t speak the local language and begins to walk the streets with other lost children. When he tells authorities the name of his hometown, he receives baffled shrugs. Wide-eyed Saroo, who does not speak the local Bengali language, is at the mercy of his own empty belly and the degenerates that prey on the city’s street children. Saroo knows his mother (Priyanka Bose) is still searching, but no agency can find her as she cannot read; & he doesn’t know her real name other than “Ammi,” and it’s impossible to track down his village.
Along the way Saroo meets a couple of friendly strangers with dubious intentions (Tannishtha Chatterjee & Nawazuddin Siddiqui), but escapes and ends up at an orphanage. Eventually with the help of a welfare worker (Deepti Naval), Saroo is put up for adoption & flown to Tasmania, Australia, where a well-meaning couple, The Brierleys (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) raises him in relative comfort. As a grown-up, Saroo (Dev Patel) is handsome, if brooding, and his Indian roots have been all but erased by his excellent childhood with the Brierleys. He has a brother Manthosh (Divian Ladwa), also adopted from India, who never adjusted as well to his new home and wears that trauma openly. Saroo is much more good-natured, but the cracks in his self-image start to show; when he meets a group of Indian students in college, he can’t relate to them culturally, but is ok with it as he has found love in the form of Lucy (Rooney Mara). Everything is fine, until he visits an Indian class mate’s house & served jalebi, a sweet snack he remembers from his childhood, he freezes in painful recognition. With the brand new Google Earth app (at the time), Saroo begins the painstaking process of searching for the visions in his memory. He feels a desperate need to tell his mother and brother that he is okay. Saroo’s needle-in-a-haystack obsession nearly tears his whole life apart and his relationships with everyone. This journey is a fantastically, tear inducing experience and the story is undoubtedly poignant. The first half of the film is simply the best Hindi film I have seen this year that didn’t hail from Bollywood. The whole half is in Hindi, which lends incredible authenticity to the story, not that BS where they have actors in which English is their second language; speak English for the sake of sparing the American audience from reading subtitles. In fact, the entire first act takes place in India, where about 40 minutes of the film rides on the shoulders of a first time child actor – played by the wonderful Sunny Pawar – and it’s one of the best first acts I’ve seen in years. It is so amazing that it is almost a futile task to be able sustain the wondrous energy in the second half. In a time where diversity is being talked about more in the film industry, this film makes a compelling case for having diversity in storytelling. It’s not about a guy meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. This is a personal story unique to Indians living abroad, and it’s refreshing and easily one of the best films the year has to offer. The film repeatedly cuts back to Saroo’s memories of his mother and brother, including vague, dreamlike bird’s-eye photography of his hometown. Director Davis wants the viewer to understand the profundity of the images lodged in Saroo’s brain, even as he gets older and the recollections grow fuzzier. The unusual, accidental circumstances of his “abandonment” help keep his hope alive. As Saroo later tells his friends, he’s a lost boy, rather than a rejected one. I am quite sure it’s not easy to dramatize the loss of cultural identity, but director Garth Davis with the help of Luke Davies’ script succeed by rendering Saroo’s internal conflict with subtlety. In the slower mid-section of the film, Saroo doesn’t take his frustrations out on the people around him, nor does he actively vocalize his confusion. He’s happy with his life while knowing that there’s a giant piece of the puzzle missing. Saroo’s girlfriend Lucy eventually encourages him to seek out his birth family, and he uses Google Earth to try and track down the town he’s from, though the name he remembers appears on no map.
I do think the film might’ve benefited from less time spent on Saroo’s couch as he clicked through Google Earth and more as he made the actual, physical journey. We become so immersed in the world Saroo as a child experienced that the transition to Dev Patel’s version of that world is jarring. Luckily, the film isn’t so bogged down by the sluggish narrative to lessen its impact which is monumental. This is, at its very heart, a simple story about a young boy desperately wanting to be reunited with his mother again. The premise is enough to make any viewer run through a box of Kleenex. Garth Davis’ sensitive direction makes you feel for the orphan the entire movie. Davis is particularly successful with the earlier chapters, making the streets look perilous, adults suspicious and the future exceedingly grim. Luke Davies’ screenplay fleshes out the plot with vivid characterizations and memorable dialogue that conveys insight in surprising ways. One of the best scenes is when Saroo confronts Sue about why she adopted children. He assumes she was barren, instead she tells him that John and she made a conscious decision to find children who could use their help and not have kids of their own. And lastly, as an added sheen to an already tremendous tale of the strength of human spirit, it’s a film about the journey that leads us to our true selves, which guides us and opens doors to possibilities we didn’t believe possible. It’s about family and love and grief and about how all three are so often intertwined with one another, where a family or relationship can begin the day cheerful and end dour, where a reuniting mother and son can pick up and hold onto each other for dear life yet not forget the family members they’ve gained and lost. It’s perhaps no surprise that film builds to an emotional conclusion; it’s toward the end where Davis leans hardest on the “inspirational drama” tropes, but they’re well-earned by solid performances and the director’s attention to nuance. Ever since breaking out big with the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel hasn’t had a role of similar size or success since, either doing solid supporting work in The Newsroom or shining in smaller, lesser seen independent films when he wasn’t playing host to some of Britain’s greatest thespians in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. An immense talent, hopefully this will be the film that proves his leading man capabilities and also shines a line on just how nuanced and charismatic he is in a role written well. Nicole Kidman brings a certain sweetness to the adopted mom role that resonates in all her scenes. It’s as if she is floating on a cloud all her own. David Wenham also exhibits a positive serenity that would make him “Father of the Year” in anyone’s book. Rooney Mara here in much more subtle role is excellent. The adorable Sunny Pawar makes a compelling lead for the first third of the film. If Oscars were given to kid actors, he would have a damn good chance at winning one. Divian Ladwa’s interpretation of the disturbed brother adds sympathy to a part that could have been dismissed as a pure annoyance. In supporting roles, the young Abhishek Bharate shines the most followed by Priyanka Bose. In small roles Deepti Naval, Pallavi Sharda, Tannishtha Chatterjee & Nawazuddin Siddiqui are likable. On the whole, ‘Lion’ is a strong and emotionally fulfilling film filled with inspirational storytelling and beautiful performances. Easily among the best films of 2016!
Directed – Garth Davis
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 118 minutes