Sometimes I am a little skeptical when it comes to watching films that have been Oscar nominated. At times I am left with a feeling as to why a particular movie won and why not the other? Other times, when I see the “based on a true story” tagline, I wonder how much of it is really true and how much of it is made up (remember The Blind Side?).
It was that same feeling I had when I started watching Lion, a movie that had been nominated for six Oscar awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Best Adapted Screenplay among others.
Guess what happened? By the end of the movie, I was in an emotional state. I was moved and my heart was stirred. Lion is that kind of movie that just shakes you up and helps you realize the power of human connections and emotions.
Saroo, a five year old, is living in abject poverty with his mother, elder brother, Guddu, and his younger sister. The two brothers go out each day collecting coals, that they trade in for food and milk. On one of their outings, when Saroo is very sleepy, Guddu leaves him on the bench at a train station, only for Saroo to wake up the next day all alone. Not knowing where his brother disappeared off to, he gets on a train that takes him more than a 1000 kms away from his village of Ganesh Tilai.
Reaching at Calcutta, in a city where they speak Bengali and not Hindi, Saroo is all the more lost. He is picked up by a woman Noor, who attempts to give him away to child trafficking gang, from which Saroo runs away. He ends up in an orphanage, where he is looked after by Mrs. Sood, who arranges for him to be adopted by an Australian couple.
Fast forward 20 years and Saroo is now studying Hotel Management and develops a relationship with Lucy. His other adopted brother, Mantosh, becomes a little bit of a recluse and so doesn’t spend as much time with his adopted family.
During the course of one evening out with his friends, Saroo discloses his real identity- adopted, is not from Calcutta and is lost. With some encouragement from his friends, he uses Google Earth to track down his village and find his real mother, brother, and sister.
It is this very part that’s the most fascinating to watch. Saroo, in all his earnestness and determination, sacrificing his relationships with his girlfriend and mother, seeks to find his real mother. He prints out large maps, spends hours on Google Earth and contemplates his destiny. Somehow, I got sucked into his journey and was pushing myself to motivate Saroo to accomplish his mission.
The movie is split into two parts.
The first half brilliantly shows the five-year-old Saroo, as he makes a living. The India shown is as real as it can get, without any of the romanticized elements that Hollywood likes to show. Moments reminded me of my own trip to India and the kind of poverty I witnessed there. It’s a rather harrowing journey for Saroo as he is left all alone and travels to Calcutta, where he encounters several precarious and life-threatening situations. The sheer realism and the grittiness just sucks you in and you become a witness to this incredible journey.
The second part is the adult Saroo and his search for his real mother. The adult Saroo is played by Dev Patel, who I personally feel did an incredible job in essaying the character of a son who is torn between his adopted mother and his real mother. Nicole Kidman, who plays the adopted mother, does a wonderful job. It may seem slow to some viewers, and that all depends on how well connected one is to Saroo’s journey.
Having said that, in the hands of the adept director Garth Davis, we get a brilliant story- telling piece of a movie. There are no cliches, no run of the mill, predictability factor— in fact, the emotional quotient is so well handled I was drawn in. The background music, the narrative, the acting- everything hit a home run for me.
However, the real reason why Lion hits you is because of the powerful portrayal of human relationships: from a younger brother to an older brother, from a son to a mother, from a son to a father, from a man to a woman. These are real people and Saroo’s story proves that love knows no bounds- an adopted mother can love her son as much as the son’s real mother. It’s a heart-warming relation that will make you value your human relationships with your loved one a whole lot more.
Lion is based on a true story of Saroo Brierly, who documented his life story in a non-fiction book called A Long Way Home. It’s a fascinating experience to witness how a young child from a tiny village of Ganesh Tilai, is taken to the city of Calcutta, to finally being adopted by a family in Australia. It’s a rather surreal experience and just goes to show that in life, anything can happen. For a child to go through extreme poverty to a privileged life is no joke.
There is a visual treat at the end of the movie, as we get to see pictures of the real people upon whom the movie based. There are some very interesting twists towards the end, and there is a huge uplifting moment when we find out the meaning behind the title of the movie: Lion, and I guarantee you, it will leave you with a huge uplifting moment, along with a tear in your eye.
4.5 out of 5
Director: Garth Davis
Cast: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Synopsis: Saroo, having been lost from his home in India for over 25 years, seeks to reconnect with his family through the aid of Google Earth, all the while struggling to maintain cordial relations with his adopted family in Australia.
Running time: 118 mins
Seen at: Home, Lahore
Approval Ratings: 86% Rotten Tomatoes