LION (2016) tells the incredible true story of a five year-old boy named Saroo who became lost on the streets of Calcutta in 1986 and found himself alone thousand of miles from home.
The movie opens with little Saroo (Sunny Pawar) enjoying a simple life with his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), his mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) and baby sister. When Guddu allows Saroo to join him on a long trip to go to work, it proves too much for Saroo, and the young boy falls asleep. Guddu leaves Saroo at the train station and tells him to stay and wait for him to return.
When Saroo awakes, the train station is empty and Guddu is gone. In search of his older brother, Saroo enters a stationary train where he again falls asleep. When he awakes, the train is moving, whisking him miles away from his home. When Saroo finally gets off the train, he finds himself on the dangerous streets of Calcutta, lost and alone. He meets other homeless children, but their time together is cut short as a group of men descend upon them, rounding them up, but Saroo escapes.
Eventually Saroo is taken in by an orphanage. He doesn’t speak the same language as the people in Calcutta, and he doesn’t know where he lives, and so the officials have no way of knowing where he came from or how to bring him back home.
Saroo is later adopted by an Australian couple, John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman). He moves to Australia where he learns English and grows up.
The movie then jumps ahead to 2010, where we meet the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) who eventually makes it his mission to finally find out where he came from and to return back home to India to find the family he left behind.
LION is an agreeable movie that draws you in right away with its vibrant and colorful shots of India as seen through the innocent eyes of young Saroo. The story grows more compelling when Saroo is lost on the streets of Calcutta,and this first half of the movie is definitely its best part. The latter half which follows the adult Saroo’s quest to find his home is a tad slow and far less interesting. But it does set up the film’s emotional and very satisfying conclusion. You’d better keep those tissues handy.
While I liked LION a lot, I didn’t love it.
I really enjoyed young Sunny Pawar as the five year-old Saroo and almost wish the entire movie had been about him. The young actor pretty much steals the movie.
Not to take anything away from Dev Patel as the adult Saroo, but his storyline is never as interesting as the story told through the eyes of the five year-old Saroo. That being said, Dev Patel is still very good and has some effective scenes in this one. Patel of course starred in the Oscar-winning SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), as well as the recent THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (2015).
Patel enjoys some nice chemistry with Rooney Mara who plays Saroo’s girlfriend Lucy. He also shares a moving scene with Nicole Kidman, where the adopted son and mother open up about their relationship, and she tells Saroo of a dream she once had, and why it was that she and her husband, even though they could have children, decided it would be better to adopt instead. It’s Kidman’s best moment in the film.
Under Garth Davis’ direction, the film moves at a deliberate pace. It’s well-photographed, especially the first half of the movie, which captures a world as seen through the eyes of a five year-old.
The screenplay by the real Saroo Brierley and Luke Davies, based on Brierley’s book “A Long Way Home” is excellent.
LION has been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, and while I liked it very much, I did enjoy some of the other Oscar contenders more, films like LA LA LAND, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and HIDDEN FIGURES.
That being said, LION is still worth a trip to the theater.
By the way, the film gets its title from Saroo’s name. Saroo learns when he returns home that he had been mispronouncing and misspelling his name. It was not Saroo but Sheru, which means “Lion.”
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.