By CYNTHIA BIDDLECOMB
“Lion” brings to the screen a memoir entitled “A Long Way Home” written by an Australian writer, Saroo Brierley. The film tells how Saroo, nearly five years old, got lost from his family in northern India and ended up alone, 994 miles away, in Kolkata. Soon after, he is adopted out from an orphanage to an Australian couple.
Movie poster for ‘Lion’. Courtesy photo
Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays Saroo in all but the first third of the film, bringing to bear all the earnestness for which he is known on screen. But in the first third of the film, the young Saroo is played, quite compellingly, by a young Indian actor named Sunny Pawar. His portrayal is so convincing, we want to get out of our theater seats and help the child find his home and family, despite their poverty.
Sunny Pawar begins as a fun-loving, 4 year old Saroo who just wants to hang out with his older brother Guddu, played by Abhishek Bharate. Together they scavenge for money and food to support their mother Kamala (Priyanka Bose) and little sister, Shekila. His desire to be with his brother ultimately leads to his getting lost. Saroo ends up inside a decommissioned passenger train on its way to Kolkata.
A thousand miles from home, too young to know his last name, mispronouncing the name of his tiny village, and unable to speak Begali, Saroo learns to survive on the streets. By his wits he manages to evade the adults who traffic in children. Through the kindness of a very few strangers, he is adopted by an Australian couple.
After a few orienting scenes of little Saroo adjusting to his new life in Australia, Dev Patel steps in as the young adult Saroo Always a good son to Sue and John Brierley, Saroo is at the same time haunted by the knowledge that he is lost from his birth family. His early memories serve as visuals as he researches with Google Earth to find his first home. He hides his obsessive project from his adoptive parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). His girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) supports his efforts until it seems to derail his mental stability. But hang in there: an eventual reunion will bring tears to every eye in the theater.
Lion was filmed in India and Tasmania, with beautiful, Oscar-nominated cinematography throughout. It is nominated for an additional five Oscars for Original Score, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Actress in Supporting Roles—Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman—and as Best Picture. Despite the stiff Oscar competition, this is a good film to see, not just to imagine the fearful adventure of a 5-year-old lost on a train and in a big city, but also to celebrate adoptive families who are ready to raise a child left alone in the world. At the same time the film celebrates the unwavering love of both birth and adoptive families, providing a touchstone of strength for kids.
Lion is “Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sensuality.” In deference to its expected audience in India, Saroo and Lucy never kiss in the film, though much beyond that is hinted at. Older children through adults will enjoy this movie.