The astonishing true story of Saroo Brierley, Director Garth Davis make his feature film debut with Lion; the story of a man on his mission to reunite with the loving family he was taken from over 20 years earlier.
To set the scene for those who haven’t seen this masterpiece yet, the movie opens onto young Saroo (Sunny Pawar – the most unbelievable new find, but more on that later) playing in Khandwa amongst the fireflies with his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Within the first five minutes of the story it is clear that this family is struggling with no father in sight and a mother who is unable to read or write, but through the strength of love they always manage to pull together and labour for another day’s food. Saroo later convinces Guddu that he is old enough to work the night shift in the most adorable display of strength I have ever seen, and ventures to the train station with him. However when he fails to stay awake, Saroo’s brother leaves him to sleep on a bench promising to return later. When Saroo wakes to find no one in sight several hours later, he goes looking for his brother on a sleeper train and is left in total despair when the train leaves the station, and he is unable to escape until it reaches Calcutta two days later. Left in a city where he doesn’t even speak the language, Saroo becomes just another statistic as a street child in India. He is eventually taken in by an orphanage, who after searching for his family in ‘Ganestalay’ (a non-existant town that Saroo believes he’s from) re home him with an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham).
At only 8 years old, Sunny Pawar is the breakout star of this touching movie. Able to convey the greatest range of emotions I have ever seen in a child, Pawar has been breaking hearts across the nation. His ability to represent the intelligence, resourcefulness and street-smarts that young Saroo possessed all the while remaining true to the terror and fear that a child of that age would have felt left me trying and failing to hold back the tears.
Although following Saroo’s story, Davis’ direction does not skim over or try to glorify the harsh realities of life in India. I found myself struck by the poignancy of Saroo’s situation and bewildered by the fact that state officials watched on while children were stolen off the street, abused, kidnapped, trafficked and left to fend for themselves. The fact that Saroo was eventually adopted is a miracle in itself, and something that I imagine every struggling child in India dreams of. The phrase “how the other half live” comes to mind.
Spanning twenty years, the movie skips forwards to Saroo’s (now played by Dev Patel) older life, as he begins his hunt for the family he knows didn’t give up on him. After a suggestion from a friend at university, Saroo ventures to dig up his past with only Google Earth and flashbacks of his distant childhood able to help him. Saroo is desperately torn between the pull from his life in India, and the fact that he doesn’t want his adoptive family to feel he’s deserting them; Dev Patel’s portrayal of this agonizing situation is moving, and the BAFTA he has won for it is thoroughly deserved.
The end of the story brought surprises that I did not expect, and I can’t even begin to imagine how Saroo felt when all his questions were finally answered. The fact that unlike so many box office hits, this extraordinary story is actually true, really hits home and brings a rawness to the emotions it conveys. I can safely say that for me, this is one of the best films of the decade, and look forward to its DVD release so I can watch it over to my heart’s content.
You can find the trailer here.