Lion  (PG) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Garth Davis, Australia/US, 2016, 118 mins, in English and Bengali and Hindi with subtitles

Cast:  Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham

This is an engrossing true life story based on the autobiographical book by its protagonist, Saroo Brierley.

In 1986 Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is a five year old child in India living in a poor but happy family in a remote village.  He is loved by his mother Kamal (Priyanka Bose) and is particularly close to his adored elder brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate).  Saroo persuades Guddu to take him on a scavenging trip to the city but they get separated and Saroo finds himself trapped on an empty train which takes him to Kolkata, (formerly Calcutta), 1500 miles away from his home.  After some dangerous and scary experiences in the big city, Saroo is eventually rescued by an orphanage.  Unable to give the orphanage even the name of his village, as a lost child Saroo is eventually adopted by an Australian couple Sue and John Brierley, who take him home with them to Tasmania.  Here he has a loving and stable home, a good education and even another brother, when his new parents adopt another Indian boy, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa)

But while Mantosh grows up into a disturbed young man, the young adult Saroo (now played by Patel) is a strong, confident young Australian student with a bright future ahead of him.  Until that is the taste of an Indian sweetmeat at a party revives distant memories of his previous life – memories which urge him to embark on the almost impossible task of finding his birth family with just a few fragmentary recollections as clues.

Patel makes an attractive and engaging central character in the latter part of the film, driven by his overpowering need to find his roots and is well supported by Kidman and Wenham as his adoptive parents, while Mara makes the most of her somewhat underwritten role as his romantic interest.   But the most powerful scenes are in the first section of the film, featuring the remarkable Sunny Pawar as young Saroo.  His distress and panic when trapped on the train is palpable and we really fear for him lost on the streets of Kolkata.  The child’s relationship with his brother too is strongly drawn – it later haunts us and the adult Saroo in evocative flashbacks.

The scenes of Saroo’s life in Australia are enjoyable and lively, where interestingly there is no suggestion of racism in Australian society.  The pace though sags somewhat disappointingly during Saroo’s actual search, which depend on lot on the use of the internet and particularly the Google Earth technology – a device which in theory should be very visual but actually gets a bit dull.  This section is though enlivened by a strong scene between Saroo and Sue, his mother, about the circumstances of his adoption, while the ending of the story is totally satisfying and moving

Review by Carol Allen