Imagine waking up on an empty train, thousands of miles from home. Imagine screaming for help though the barred windows. Imagine that nightmare. Imagine you a five-year-old boy. That is the predicament of the main character, Saroo Brierley, in Garth Davis’ debut film drama, Lion.
Lion is an emotional roller-coaster of a movie which continually drenches your senses with the colourful and exotic sights and sounds of India.
Wide-eyed Sunny Pawar, the newcomer actor, picked from thousands of hopeful candidates to play the leading role. Panwar steals your heart for the first hour.
The movie follows the true-life story of a five-year-old Indian boy who gets separated from his older brother and ends up, over a thousand miles from his home, in the mean streets of Calcutta.
It is 1986, a world away from today’s multi-connected society. There are no smart phones. It is a time when it was possible to disappear.
The exotic images, which surround the painful real-life challenges this street urchin encounters, are taken from the young boy’s perspective. His world of danger is framed in colourful and mystical vibrancy.
The journey is long and bittersweet. The young Saroo ends up in a government-run orphanage, and despite newspaper appeals, is never claimed.
He is eventually adopted by a middle-class Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman), who offer him a privileged upbringing in Tasmania.
The second-half of the film does not have the same intensity or nail-biting moments as the first; the audience knows the hero is safe and removed from the perils of Calcutta.
It is 2010, and Saroo has morphed into a grown man, played by Dev Patel, (Slumdog Millionaire). We meet him again as he moves away from his home to start a college in Melbourne.
Kidman plays Saroo’s plain, selfless adoptive mother. She and her husband John struggle to raise their second adoptive son, Mantosh, who is not only estranged from the family, but also has autistic behaviours and battles substance abuse. This is in stark contrast to Saroo’s memories of his own caring brother, Guddu.
However, Saroo is haunted by flashbacks. Sights and smells, which remind him of his homeland, trigger images of his childhood in rural India; his hardworking single-mother, (Priyanka Bose), and his beloved older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate).
With the help of Google Maps, Saroo immerses himself on a quest to retrace his journey back to his home village and re-unite with his family.
Saroo plots the possible train route. He sets up a map on his apartment wall where he pins possible locations for his home village. The project takes over his life, he is conflicted between his need to connect with his roots and disappointing his adoptive family.
Saroo drops out of school and loses his girlfriend. But he never gives up.
Lion is a story of hope, determination and human survival. It shows how we are all connected to our past, and our need to be reassured of that connection before our future is fulfilled.