Running time: 2 hours
Director: Garth Davis
Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Abhishek Bharate, Sunny Pawar
Spoiler alert in effect.
I had seen the trailer for this film ages ago when I had googled Oscar-buzz movies. Being heavily centred around Australia and starring Nicole Kidman, it generated a lot of attention here. Both Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman attended the Sydney premiere of the film, and the local news stations conducted interviews with the man behind this amazing story, Saroo Brierly, who hails from Hobart. So I definitely had a lot of exposure to it even before it came out. I had luckily discovered that a company was giving away free preview tickets to this film, and so I immediately booked a session. It was a packed theatre, and watching with an audience always adds to the emotional intensity of a film.
I have to give a warning to those who watch it: pack tissues. The whole story is an emotional rollercoaster. By the end, you’ll be feeling this mixture of sadness and hope and joy. For nearly the first hour (I think the first 45-50 minutes), the film establishes Saroo’s upbringing in India and the close relationship between him and his family, in particular, his brother Guddu. This is all subtitled (as they speak in Hindi and Bengali), which is blessing for people like me who enjoy being able to understand each word that is being said. This part was much longer than I expected. Only half the film is dedicated towards actually finding his family after he is adopted and brought to Australia. I didn’t realise they would spend such a substantial portion of the film focusing on a young Saroo, but I’m glad they did. It not only showcased Sunny Pawar’s astounding talents, but also helped the audience understand the emotional context of the story: the brotherly bond, the destitute conditions they were living in, the lack of care for orphaned children in India, the love and selflessness his adopted parents showed towards him, and his determination and wit in adapting. It’s really upsetting to see the level of poverty and desperation in India. Both Guddu and Saroo have to risk their lives to steal coal from a moving train. Then Guddu has to try find work at night, perilously crossing train tracks. They live in a small room and share the same old bed. Everyday they must work hard to be able to eat and survive. It’s a really humbling experience and makes you grateful for what you have right now. In a sense, I guess Saroo was lucky to have been lost on the train, because he ended up having an opportunity at a better life, with loving parents and an education.
The second half of the film focuses on a grown-up Saroo who ends up studying Hotel Management in Melbourne, where he meets his girlfriend. By chance one evening, while eating Indian food at a friend’s place, he comes across Jalebis, which is an Indian sweet. It triggers his childhood memory, where he asks his brother to buy him some at the market. This leads him to begin his search for his family, using Google Earth and his limited memory of his house and the train station he was lost at. It’s truly remarkable and uplifting to know he finally found his mother, still living in the same village in the hopes that her son will return. What’s heartbreaking is that Guddu died the same night that Saroo boarded that train. He will never get to see his brother again. But it’s still comforting to know that he finally got closure in meeting his mother and his sister. And now his Australian family will have the chance to meet his Indian family. Of course, this ending was the breaking point for me and the tears just wouldn’t stop flowing. Family has always been really important to me, so to be able to see the love and joy of the family reunion was a very emotional experience for me, and others who watched it.
I found it to be a very well told story, adapted from Saroo’s book A Long Way Home. It had good pacing, a little drawn out at places, but overall good. I was a bit surprised at how little screen-time Nicole Kidman had, considering she’s nominated for all these awards. Even Dev Patel only appeared for half the film. The real star is Sunny of course. He really holds his own and creates such a believable portrayal of a child who is lost but still determined.
Overall, it’s definitely worth giving it a watch, even if you watch it on DVD later. Watch it until the very end to find out why the movie is titled Lion!