'Lion': An emotionally powerful film (Review)

 23 Feb 2017 - 12:17

'Lion': An emotionally powerful film (Review)
Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel at a premiere of Lion.

By Troy Ribeiro | IANS

Film: Lion | Director: Garth Davis; Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Priyanka Bose, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Deepti Naval, Divian Ladwa, Sachin Joab, Pallavi Sharda, Arka Das | Rating: ***1/2

Adapted from Saroo Brierley's autobiography "A Long Way Home", director Garth Davis' "Lion" is an intimately emotional film despite an extremely underwritten screenplay. It is an adopted boy, Saroo's journey in search of his biological mother.

We first meet Saroo (Sunny Pawar) at the age of 5, when he lives with his poor mother, older brother Guddu and younger sister in a shanty in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, India, in 1987. He often accompanies Guddu on trips to steal coal in order to support his family. One day after convincing his brother to let him come along, he accidentally boards a train and falls asleep.

Next thing we know, Saroo is aboard a moving train. He is dropped 1,500 miles away from home in Calcutta. Terrified and unable to speak the language, he undergoes a series of traumatic experiences until he finally ends up being sent to Australia where he is adopted by a loving couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman).

Twenty years later, in Australia, Saroo seems like a privileged young man with a promising future, yet he is haunted by his unresolved past. Thanks to the internet boom, Saroo indulges in his computer and succeeds in his endeavour.

The film with two distinct halves makes for a lopsided film experience, yet one that rallies to the end. Perhaps it is just the fact that Saroo's time as an adult just isn't as interesting as his struggles as a child which shows how a single minute accident can completely alter the course of one's life forever. The beauty of the narrative lies in the dynamics of its simplicity and simultaneous complexity.

Shot on real locales with rustic characters, the telling of this story, without getting too cheesy is strongly reminiscent of "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Salaam Mumbai". What keeps you glued is undoubtedly the performances.


The star of the film is definitely Sunny Pawar. As the young Saroo, he is simply adorable and charming. He portrays Saroo's fear and anxiety with such finesse that you instantly fall in love with him and you root for him. He lays the foundation for Dev Patel who plays the older version.

Saroo's heavy heart comes across loud and clear, with Patel's empathetic performance. He more than lives up the complex emotions required, be it with his foster mother or his girlfriend.

In a subtly evangelistic role, David Wenham as the pragmatic dad John Brierley and Nicole Kidman as Sue, his tightly wounded and easily hurt mother, are sincere.

Rooney Mara as Saroo's girlfriend is wasted in a miniscule role. So are, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as opportunists trying to take advantage of Saroo.

Greig Fraser's camera work is incredible. His dazzling overhead landscapes seamlessly mesh with the images created by Google Earth, thanks to the razor sharp editing by Alexandre de Franceschi.

The background score by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O'Halloran appears overtly syrupy which elevates this heart breaking experience making it an unabashedly melodramatic, and sentimental feel-good film.

Overall if you overlook the few rough spots you may find yourself loving this completely imperfect film.