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‘Lion’ Review: A Celebration of the Human Spirit‘Lion’ is a wonderful film which shows us that even the most nightmarish journeys can end well and if there’s a will, there’s a way to recover the past, to return home. Based on the compelling true story of Saroo Brierley who was lost as a child, the film tracks the journey the five-year-old must undertake alone in a relentless, uncaring world.
Saroo’s mother is a laborer eking out a meager existence for herself and her three children, and Saroo and his older brother Guddu help her by scavenging and doing odd jobs. One day Saroo gets separated from Guddu at a railway station, falling asleep in an out-of-service train. The empty hurtling train deposits him in the frenetic hurly burly of Calcutta; millions of people rushing past in the busy station, and not one pays attention to this disheveled lost child. The lives of street children are horrific and we enter into a cruel, Dickensian world – an ugly world of pimps, child thieves, and uncaring cops.
In all the darkness, there’s also some good and there’s a lovely whimsical scene where Saroo, matted and dirty holding a big metal spoon he picked up while scavenging the streets, mimics a well-heeled diner eating at a restaurant across the street. The good-hearted man befriends Saroo and gets him to a police station, propelling him in the right direction from where Saroo finally gets adopted by a kindly couple from Tasmania.
From then on, life is full for Saroo as he adapts to his comfortable new world and the memories of his childhood are packed away. Yet an orange jalebi sweet sparks memories of his lost home, and the life he had led with his loved mother and older brother. The film is about how Saroo, in his 20’s, traces his way back to his village and his ramshackle home, back to his birth mother, thanks to the new revolutionary technology of Google Earth.
‘Lion’ is so moving because of the remarkable performances by Dev Patel as the grown-up Saroo and Sunny Pawar as the child. Patel gives one of the best performances of his career with a deep emotional dimension to it, and Pawar is a very natural talented actor who should be seen in more films. They are the beating heart of the film and they both make you feel deeply invested in Saroo’s search. Nicole Kidman and David Wenham give impeccable performances as Saroo’s adoptive parents, and Rooney Mara plays Saroo’s love interest who tries to understand his struggles as he chases after a lost world. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tannishta Chatterjee appear in fleeting cameo roles but have a strong impact.The portions set in India are visually powerful and poignant, and are by far the strongest parts of the film. The drama of crowded streets in Calcutta add to the colorful chaos and stress, and make the tale compelling. A child lost in a huge metropolis is a tragedy which sadly happens all too often. Human life is cheap on the mean streets and there are many nameless faceless urchins like Saroo in urban India. In fact, over 80,000 children go missing in India each year and over 11 million children are living on the streets alone. (TWC and See-Saw Films have partnered with non-profit organizations Magic Bus and Railway Children to launch the #LIONHEART campaign in the hopes of helping the millions of vulnerable children in India.)
With superb direction by Garth Davis and a spellbinding musical score by Dustin O’Halloran and Hausckha, ‘Lion’ is a must-see film which does justice to a life-affirming real-life tale. The film has been nominated for four Golden Globe awards, including Best Film, Best Supporting Actor for Dev Patel, Best Supporting Actress for Nicole Kidman and Best Original Music Score by O’Halloran and Hausckha.
As we delve into the unknown journey of a new, unknown year, ‘Lion’ is a good film to carry with us; it shows us that hope, love and perseverance can get us where we need to go – and of course many thanks to technology and Google Earth!
Finally, have you wondered why the film is called ‘Lion’? That question had intrigued me too. You have to see the movie to find out – no spoilers from me, but the answer will delight you.