“Lion”, the debut feature film of the Australian director Garth Davis, is a riveting tale of separation, hope and perseverance. The movie is adapted from the autobiography, A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, an Indian-born, Australian businessman. It recounts the journey of an Indian boy separated from his family at a very young age, played by debutant actor Sunny Pawar in the first half of the movie and later by Dev Patel. He faces various ordeals while trying to cope with the vulnerability and horrors of street life before eventually being placed in an orphanage where he gets adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham) and after 20 years, he decides to look for his lost family.
The storyline is a testament to the phrase “reality is stranger than fiction” and consists of two distinctive parts; the first half is centered around the young Saroo, a 5-year-old boy living in very poor conditions, in rural India, with his mother (Priyanka Bose) and brother (Abhishek Bharate). We are shown a difficult life but not a hopeless or desolate one; all three characters go about their lives with an exuberance that will tug at your heartstrings. Since the initial portions are practically wordless, you get to delve into the engaging visuals and terrific actors performances that makes ‘Lion’ a compelling watch.
Sunny Pawar will definitely leave a lasting impression on you with his gripping performance and instant charm. He effortlessly portrays the feelings of young Saroo, being a buoyant boy with determination and later a distraught soul with innate street smarts. His despair will wiggle its way into your heart as you watch him wandering a sea of busy strangers on a train station looking for “Guddu” and approaching ticket counters looking for “Ganestalay”, his tiny village that no one knows about in the big city.
In the second half, Dev Patel takes over as the matured Saroo now living a comfortable life in Australia and excels in showing his inner tumult once he realizes he needs to find the missing pieces of his past. He struggles to deal with a void that did not spring from the absence of love but rather the presence of a love he misses, that hollows out everything else. Dev brilliantly highlights the transition of Saroo from a charming and determined person to a distressed person that shuts people out, loses his professional ambition and secludes himself with his laptop in the hopes of trying to find his lost home.
The movie’s premise was also enhanced by some very powerful performances from actors who had small roles to play, like Nawazuddin Siddiqui who leaves a lasting impression as the creepy and possible child trafficker, even with just one scene, and Deepti Naval’s timely appearance helps drive the story forward in a compelling way. Nicole Kidman delivers a very solid performance, which pales a little in comparison to Priyanka Bose who plays Saroo’s birth mother with utmost passion. Her endearing smile while toiling away to feed her family and the way she looks lovingly at her children, portrays a mother’s outpouring love and makes her performance enthralling.
The amazing cinematography of “Lion” packs a healthy dose of heartwarming and heart-wrenching moments while depicting the pain of separation, the turmoil of being lost and finally the overwhelming joy of reunion. But amidst the vortex of riveting scenes, are a few lighthearted ones that are amusing; such as when Rooney and Dev are flirting on the street and A. R. Rahman’s popular Tamil song Urvasi pops up or when Dev has a mild ‘Proust’s Madeleine moment’, except he has it with jalebis, which triggers his memory and ultimately sets the trail for his way home. Who knew jalebis had such powers huh?