Film

REVIEW: Lion

lion

Rare titles – it’s been a long time. A year and a half in fact. The last time I came on here it was to review a debut album by hip hop producer, Philly B. Since then I’ve completed an NCTJ (Journalism) diploma, and have also landed a full time role as a Content Writer.

I return to you today with feedback on a film which quite simply moved me to tears. A story which although set a million miles away from London, hit home such a way I’ve never known before. Lion, as the name suggests, is a movie about strength and courage.

Garth Davis’s true story centres on a five year old Indian boy called Saroo (Sunny Pawar), whose life is turned upside after losing his brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) while out on an errand. Young and scared, he unwittingly ends up on a train to faraway Calcutta, where he encounters street kids and people traffickers. When questioned about place of origin, he insists “Ginestlay” (meaning “Ganesh Talai”) is home and asks: “will you help me find my mum?”. Mispronunciation of the village name proves a hindrance, and after a missing persons story is put out and yields no results, Saroo is put up for adoption and has to relocate to Australia.

A warm welcome awaits him at the other side. Arriving in a Tasmania T-shirt, Saroo is greeted with smiles as he embraces his new parents. The little English he does know is made apparent at the dining table when cutely points out one of the utensils to be a fork. Little does he know, but a stepbrother will he joining him very soon. Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav), also Indian, is hard and troubled looking, and although of similar age to Saroo, has issues which quickly shine though as he bangs his head against a fridge in panic. Nicole Kidman plays adoptive mother, Sue Brierley, comfortably, mainly because the role demands an Australian with strength of character.

Fast forward twenty years, Saroo is now an adult and getting ready to embark on a degree at the University of Melbourne. Mantosh (this time played by Divian Ladwa) is, meanwhile, moping around, with the implication of having caused their parents a lifetime of misery. It’s at university that Saroo’s thoughts turn to belonging. During a introductory seminar, he’s reminded of the fact that India is his true home, and later makes it his mission to return there. It’s at this point that he also makes the acquaintance of Lucy (Rooney Mara), a fellow Hotel Management graduate, who takes a liking to him. Like Saroo, she’s without her biological mother; she’s also a foreigner in Australia.

In an emotional scene at a house party, Saroo discovers some Indian sweets he’s not seen since childhood and memories of the past start flooding back. Opening up about his ordeal to others at the party, he’s alerted to the possibilities of Google Earth, as a platform for helping him find his village. By measuring the speed his train was travelling at the time, he’s told he can track back it’s starting point and therefore work out where he went missing in the first place. Consoling him, Lucy devotes herself entirely, but receives little of the same affection in return. Saroo is locked in to an identity crisis and refuses to let her help him, choosing instead to sneak Google searches on a laptop late at night.

As Saroo and Lucy become more distant, his search narrows. A million and one pins dropped, and months of agonising later, he hits on what he thinks is a familiar region. Close-ups of his face and the map, create a sense of tension as he zooms in excitedly. Scrolling the area, he begins to remember paths walked as a child, and buildings previously encountered. Director, Davis, parallels the cursor movement of the computer mouse across the rail tracks, with the original train journey beautifully, revealing the technological strength of Google Earth. A sense of optimism awaits as Saroo arrives “home” on the map; a feeling that the very same reunion with be recreated for the real without failure. As predicted, he rushes off back to Lucy’s house, eager to share the news. A sparkle in his eye brings a smile to her face and she agrees to stand by him no matter what.

All the while, his family has been falling apart at the seams. His stepbrother has gone off the rail, and his mother has sunk into depression. Restoring contact, Saroo explains where’s been and what’s he’s been doing, anxious that she might feel betrayed. He ignorantly remarks that the only reason she adopted him and his stepbrother was because she couldn’t have kids of her own. Barrenness does come into it, she explains. It turns out she could conceive, but decided to adopt on the basis of helping children already born and in desperate need of love. Why produce more offspring, when there’s already enough parent-less children in the world to look after, she argues. Filled with a sense of love, Saroo recognises he was wrong and comforts his mother.

If you’re not welling up inside at this stage, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the film. A feeling of undoing informs his journey, as he retraces the steps that led to his estrangement in the first place. Arriving at the hovel he once called home, he comes to discover that nobody is there and assumes the worst. A strange man then arrives and mutters a few words of English. After explaining who he’s looking for, Saroo is led away down some narrow streets. Looking on in the distance he sees a group of women in saris coming towards him, unsure of what to make of them. And then, in a teary moment which seems too good be true, he come face to face with a woman he never thought he’d see again. His birth mother. There’s a further twist in there, but I won’t give it away.

It’s incredible to think that Lion is a true story. I’ve no doubt that it’s embellished in parts, but the premise seems so unbelievable, it makes you question whether miracles do actually happen. Children seem to disappear all the time, but rarely do they return in such an astonishing way. Dev Patel, who plays grown-up Saroo, has come an long way since his Skins days. A gawky teenager turned stoic protagonist, he’s gone from strength to strength, excelling in roles including The Man Who Knew Infinity and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. However, Slumdog Millionaire is where he truly got the ball rolling, playing the role of Jamal Malik: a kid from the slums of Mumbai who hits the jackpot on a TV show. Lion seems he recreate the “Indian kid in a hard place” scenario with a decidedly different twist. But it’s not just Dev who steals the show, Sunny is equally as spellbinding. A special thanks to Garth Davis for adapting such a beautiful story. I’d be “lion” if I said I didn’t enjoy it.

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