By Nick Boyd
“Lion” (based on the nonfiction book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley) is an inspirational movie about a 5-year-old Indian boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar.) Saroo and his older brother Guddu scavenge for coal on a daily basis to sell in the marketplace, so they can get food and milk for their mother and sister. Their mother also gathers rocks to sell for a living.
One night, Saroo and his older brother are scavenging for coal by themselves near a train station in India. The older brother tells him to stay put on a bench and that he will be back. With no sign of the older brother, Saroo decides to get onto a train to look for him and when the train finally disembarks in Calcutta, it is 1,000 miles away from Saroo’s home. Wandering the streets of Calcutta without even knowing how to speak the local dialect, Saroo is homeless for several months, which must have been frightening for someone his age. The movie really immerses us in the run-down conditions of India at the time and how a little boy could easily get overlooked in the vast populace of India. After running away from a man and a woman who do not have his best interests in mind, he eventually finds himself in a Dickensian like orphanage, where he gets adopted by an Australian couple named Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham.)
Saroo finds that the Brierley’s home is much more spacious than the one he shared in India with his mom and siblings and he does not have to worry about lack of food. He is also free to pursue his interests. During this time, the Brierley’s adopt another boy from India named Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav), who has much trouble adjusting to his new environment, markedly worse than Saroo did.
The film goes forward 20 years, where Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) is pursuing his college studies and meets an American woman (Rooney Mara) in one of his classes, who will become his girlfriend. This part of the picture is not as gripping as what preceded it, because there seems to be less tension and less at stake. Nonetheless, the actors (Mara and especially Patel) make the most of their screen time and give solid performances.
One day, Saroo figures out that he can utilize a recent internet feature called Google Earth to potentially locate the village and home where he grew up with the goal to go back to India to hopefully be reunited with his mother and siblings.
While Saroo’s adoptive parents (Kidman and Wenham) give strong performances, it is young Pawar who gives the best performance in the movie, remarkable work that brings forth much sympathy and deep emotional investment in his plight.
Saroo’s adopted brother was really one-dimensional and over-the-top as depicted on screen.
The film takes us on a very poignant, heartfelt journey, which is beautifully shot, demonstrating the unending love of a boy for his mother and siblings.