Separated from his brother at a train stop in Calcutta, five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) becomes lost and finds shelter on an idle train nearby. After falling asleep inside, he awakes with the train steaming thousands of kilometres away from his humble home.
Too young to know how to spell his name or where his village is located, he is forced onto the streets to survive for months by himself. Luckily, he is picked up by an orphanage and requested for adoption by Tasmanians, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman). He arrives in Australia in 1988 where he begins his new life.
20 years pass and Saroo (Dev Patel) is now in Melbourne studying hotel management. He begins an intimate relationship with fellow student, Lucy (Rooney Mara). At an Indian-themed student party, Saroo has painful flashbacks and tells the story of his childhood. They inform him about a new developing site called Google Earth, and how he can use his memories to backtrack his steps online and find his way home.
On the surface, Lion might appear to be the stock-standard, Oscar-bait film of the summer holidays that tugs at your heart strings for a couple of hours but ultimately makes us wonder how long we have to wait until the next Star Wars. Instead, from the opening shot, Saroo’s story is far more intense. Images of an impoverished India, to begin with, are enough to clamp down hard on your chest, but throwing a child onto those streets, left to defend for himself… ooft. Deeply impacted by a poor economy and strained population, he becomes an orphan fighting against his own countries’ complications.
It ultimately sparks one of the most emotionally fulfilling Aussie films in recent times. Apparently, Hollywood bigwigs attempted to bring the setting into America, thankfully, director Garth Davis resisted. There’s just something exciting as an Australian about having a major movie blockbuster down-under. Along with some amazing shots of Tasmania, there are a few Aussie culture references which are guaranteed to help you connect to the story.
Most true stories aren’t as consistently interesting as Lion is. It doesn’t feel rushed, nor laboured at any point. Most of the credit for the pace in the final hour goes to Dev Patel, and the intertwining connection between himself and young Saroo is authentic. The performance to admire most, however, is little Sunny Pawar. His acting ability is remarkably natural and heart-melting for a 5-year-old, it’s a testament to his skill that he can express so much with so little dialogue. Check out some YouTube clips of him – he’s the cutest little guy ever!
Lion also makes you further acknowledge how lucky and privileged we are to be living in this wonderful land while identifying the timely importance of helping those in need in these foreign countries of Asia.
It’s the kind of cinematic warm blanket that makes you feel both heartbroken and inspired. Impossible to forget. Make sure you bring the Kleenex!