During the lead up to the 2017 awards season I frantically raced to see as many nominated movies as possible. While I made it to several - Hidden Figures, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight - I couldn't squeeze in Lion before the Oscars (much to my chagrin). While I was visiting my parents in Miami earlier this month, my mother and I stumbled on Lion in the On Demand choices while we were browsing. We had both been dying to see it, so we paid the rental price without a second thought.
Lion tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family when he was just five years old. Scared and homeless on the streets of India, he eventually finds his way to an orphanage. Through the orphanage he gets placed with a loving couple, Sue and John, in Tasmania.
Young Saroo is played by Indian child actor Sunny Pawar. Pawar is undeniably adorable and it's his cherubic face that has you rooting for him from the start.
Fun fact: Pawar only speaks Hindi and had to learn his English lines phonetically.
Though young Saroo doesn't speak very much, but he conveys his emotions with his eyes and his body language. The first woman to take him in seems to have her heart in the right place (feeding him, bathing him, sharing orange sodas with him) but when her "friend" comes to visit and meet Saroo it becomes clear she is planning to sell him. My stomach turned in that moment. Saroo could sense something was wrong and made a break for it. That scene stuck with me for three days.
Saroo eventually lands in an orphanage, which was so packed and run down I felt anxious every minute he was there.
Thankfully, he is adopted by a lovely couple, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. They show Saroo unconditional love and make him feel safe.
Soon after he's settled, they adopt another young boy from India. The moment Mantosh arrives, it is clear he has mental health problems. His issues will go on to plague the family for their entire lives.
Half way through, the film flashes forward and Saroo is a grown man, getting ready to leave home to attend hospitality school. Adult Saroo is played by Dev Patel, best known for Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Newsroom. Interestingly, the film's director, Garth Davis, really didn't want to cast Patel because he felt like he was too well known for another story of an Indian orphan. In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, Patel shares:
“Garth really did want me to change,” Patel said. “He said, ‘Look, I really want you to transform for this role. I want to see a whole new Dev.’ The whole idea was to see a new human being. The way I look, the way I sound. A more mature character than I have ever played. And he’s Australian — bigger, more alpha type of guy.”
Patel plays Saroo as a man deeply hurt and haunted by his past. He's at a university mixer when the hostess serves Indian food for dinner, including cookies he remembers eyeing at the market as a little boy. The sight and smell of those cookies causes him to become obsessed with the idea of finding his family. For months he holes up in his apartment, attempting to retrace his steps (as a five year old) using Google Earth.
At the moment when he finally connects the dots, he realizes that all this time he has been saying he is from "Ganestalay" when the name of his village is actually "Ganesh Talai." As a little boy, he was mispronouncing it. That was another moment where I gasped and felt like I couldn't catch my breath.
Saroo decides to go back to India and try to find his mother, brother and sister. From the moment he embarks on this homecoming journey, you feel nervous. Will his village still be there? Will his mother still be alive? Is his brother ok? At this point, I was glad I was watching the movie at home and not in the theater, because the only way my mom and I could stay calm was by asking each other these questions out loud.
I don't want to spoil the ending for you, so I won't say any more. You must see Lion. You will be nervous and anxious the entire time and the story will stick with you for days after you watch, but it's worth it.
When the credits roll, they show photos of the real life Saroo, his Indian family and his adoptive family. They recreated so many of the clothes, including the t-shirt Saroo wore the day he met his adopted parents. For some reason, seeing the real life photos made me even more emotional!
Watching the movie left me wanting to read Saroo's book, A Long Way Home. There is so much more I want to know!
Tell me, did you see Lion? Did it stick with you too?