While there is a general consensus that great novels rarely result in great movies, the few exceptions lead to awesomely exceptional movies. The Lion is one such movie.
The movie, which premiered in September 2016, is a drama film that is adopted from A Long Way Home, a book by Saroo Brierley. What makes the film even more moving is the fact that the events depicted in the movie are based on a true life story. The film was written by Luke Davies and directed by Garth Davies.
The Lion, which stars Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Rooney Mara has received six Oscar nominations and won 5: Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel); Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman); Best Cinematography; Best Score; and Best Adapted Screenplay.
It tells the story of a five year old boy who gets separated from his family and the experiences he goes through as he tries to trace his family through two decades. It is an emotional and moving film, depicting a number of social issues, ranging from poverty and adoption to the sense of belonging that every human being craves for.
The movie begins with a scene that is set in Khandwa, India. The year is 1986. This is where the impoverished family consisting of five year old Saroo Khan, his mother and siblings live, depending on odd jobs for their survival. One day as they move about searching for odd jobs, Saroo gets separated from his elder brother, Guddu. Searching for his brother, the five year old boy gets on a cross-country train that drops him in Kolkata, a 1000 miles from his home village.
The movie follows the sad and harrowing experiences Saroo goes through as he tries to retrace his village, living in the streets and nearly getting preyed upon by shady characters who want to sell him into the sex trade.
Eventually, a benevolent stranger takes Saroo to a police station in Kolkata. Unfortunately, the young boy does not know his mother’s name nor the name of the village that he came from, so tracing his family becomes impossible.
He ends up in an orphanage, from where he gets adopted by John and Sue Brierley, an affectionate white couple who live in Tasmania, Australia. The Brierley’s also adopt another troubled young boy by the name Mantosh. As he gets used to life in Tasmania, the memories of his past in India begin to fade away. Though he has been adopted, life in Tasmania is decidedly better than it was back in India.
The movie then skips forward 20 years, as Saroo relocates to a university in Melbourne, where he studies hotel management. Saroo has brought a great sense of happiness and pride to his foster parents, while his adopted brother Mantosh is unable to fully adjust due to his traumatizing experiences.
It is while at the university that he meets and starts a relationship with an American girl named Lucy. While at party, sharing a plate of jalebis – a type of Indian food – with friends triggers memories of his childhood and the Indian treats that his brother used to promise him. After confiding in his friends that he is adopted, they suggest that Google Earth can help him find his village in India.
Rather than settle for the comfortable life he is enjoying in Australia, he decides to search for his family. The anguish he suffers from imagining what his family must have gone through after he went missing make him withdrawn, obsessed and almost mentally ill, to the point that he disconnects from his American girlfriend. Using landmarks that he recalls from his childhood and other clues, he starts scanning the whole of India using Google Earth, using a rough distance from Kolkata as his reference.
One day, Saroo returns to Tasmania to visit his foster mother, who is suffering from deteriorating health. In an emotional, almost teary confession, Sue lets Saroo know that she is not barren. Instead, she believes that the world is already overpopulated, and therefore she chose to offer her help to those in need through adoption.
Meanwhile, he continues dedicating copious amounts of time to scouring Google Earth, searching for his hometown. One evening, he notices a rock formation, recalling it as a place where his mother worked during his childhood. From this, he finds his hometown of Khandwa. Saroo then confides the details of his search for his real family with his foster mother, who agrees to support him.
Towards the end of the movie, Saroo finally returns to Khandwa, where we witness a very emotional and moving scene as Saroo reunites with his mother and sister. Unfortunately, he learns that his brother Guddu is long dead, having been killed by a train the same day that they got separated at the train station as kids.
We also learn that Saroo’s mother was always hopeful that Saroo would return home, and that is why she never relocated from her village. Saroo’s mother deeply appreciates the care Sue gave to her son. Saroo also learns that all this long, he has been mispronouncing his name, which should have been Sheru, a name that roughly translates to “Lion” in Hindi. Finally, the movie closes with captions about the return of the real Saroo to his family in February 2012.
All in all, The Lion is a very arresting film. The scene of the final reunion will touch even those with the hardest of hearts. Grieg Fraser beautifully shoots the movie, bringing about a kind of poetic realism.
The film also features an incredible cast. The role of young Saroo is played by Sunny Pawar, a young, and adorable new comer who immediately wins the concern and sympathy of the audience. The role of adult Saroo is also expertly delivered by Dev Patel in what may well be his best performance so far. Patel effectively brings alive the tension that Saroo goes through as he is torn in between two lives. Nicole Kidman also delivers a stunning performance as she plays the role of Sue, Saroo’s foster mother.
With its emotional storytelling and encouraging complexity resulting from a mixed racial identity, The Lion is a movie you will definitely appreciate seeing.