I just managed to catch a showing of Lion before it left the cinemas. What an unbelievable and overwhelming film.
Lion follows the true story of Saroo Brierley, born in India but raised from a young age in Tasmania. Saroo, who lived with his mother and brother (Guddu) and sister (Shekila) in a small Indian village, boards a train one day and is accidentally taken thousands of kilometres away to Calcutta. Too young to find his way back home, Saroo lives on the dangerous streets of Calcutta until he is eventually adopted by an Australian family and moves to Tasmania. Twenty years later, he begins to search for his home village and his mother and brother, using Google Earth. This is one of those stories, like Schindler’s List, where you can’t quite believe that all of this really happened to one person, where a true story is so extraordinary, it just had to be brought to the big screen.
There is so much to praise about Lion. I am by no means the first person to comment on the astonishing performance of Sunny Pawar as young Saroo. Sunny breaks your heart over and over again as he loses his mother and brother and is threatened with danger and abuse as a street-child in India. You will be hard set to find a more natural and believable performance from an actor this year, let alone one under the age of 10. Sunny is so good he somewhat overshadows the wonderful Dev Patel, who is brilliantly understated as adult Saroo. Nicole Kidman is also - unsurprisingly – a wonder to watch as Saroo’s adoptive mother, Sue.
As you would expect, a film that is set half in India and half in Australia is full of beautiful scenery and amazing landscapes. The director, Garth Davis, cleverly highlights both the stark differences between these two countries, in particular the affluence of Australia compared with the often-extreme poverty of India, but also the similarities of the two landscapes, Saroo’s two homes.
Although the plot of this film can be summarised quite simply, in fact it is a very complex and emotive story. Patel and Kidman in particular portray excellently the complicated web of emotions that comes with adopting a child with a difficult past. This is also shown in the heart-breaking performances of both Keshav Jadhav and Divian Ladwa as Saroo’s adoptive Indian brother, Mantosh (child and adult) whose transition from India to Australia is far harder than Saroo’s.
In addition to this amazing story, Lion offers many small and affecting tales that intersperse with Saroo’s journey. It doesn’t hold back in showing you the horrendous circumstances in which thousands of lost and homeless children in India found themselves in the 1980s and still find themselves today.
That said, Lion is a fundamentally hopeful and positive movie whose main message is of the unconditional love shared by family members. Lion is also a wonderful example of the fact that, it isn’t necessarily a blood-tie that makes someone family. My favourite scene in the film is where Sue Brierley explains to Saroo why she and her husband, John, chose to adopt two sons from India, rather than have biological children. Sue is as much Saroo’s mother as Kamla is, as is Mantosh as much Saroo’s brother as Guddu. A moving film with a great message, Lion receives many thumbs up from me.