Direction: Garth Davis
Actors: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kindman, Rooney Mara
If the opening credits of Lion hadn’t specified that the film was based on a true story, it’s likely the believe-it-or-not tale would have been mistaken for a work of fanciful fiction.
Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s memoir “A Long Way Home”, Garth Davis’ directorial debut charts the incredible journey of a five-year-old Indian boy who finds a new life with his adoptive parents in Australia.
The more compelling first half traces the Dickensian world into which Saroo (Pawar) is thrust after he falls asleep on a long-distance train and wakes up in Calcutta.
Stranded in the overcrowded streets of the city and with no way of finding his family, the lost kid is eventually adopted and lives in greater comfort with his surrogate parents (Kidman and David Wenham).
Fast forward 25 years. Now in his thirties, Saroo (Patel) still obsesses over the fate of his birth family. With the aid of Google Earth, he finally identifies the rural Indian village where he spent his childhood. Expectedly the narrative winds down on an audience-friendly note.
The film loses some of its lustre during the latter half, with the fleeting visions of his beloved older brother and his hard-working mother (Priyanka Bose).
Several subsidiary characters like the adoption agency representative (Deepti Naval), Saroo’s Australian girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and his second adoptive sibling are underutilised. On the other hand, the soundtrack makes judicious use of tunes by Lata Mangeshkar, Salma Agha and AR Rahman.
While Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman (both nominated for Oscars in the supporting roles category) are reliably efficient, it’s the mesmeric performance by young newcomer Sunny Pawar which lends the film its emotional wallop.
At times sentimental but never maudlin, Lion is an inspiring slice-of-life odyssey.
Watch the trailer for Lion here: