What looked like a definite fluffy crowd-pleaser, Lion actually turned out to be rather impressive. Based on a true story, debut director Garth Davis’ movie tells the tale of young Saroo Brierley (it is based on his novel) a kid who spends his days helping his mother out shifting rocks in rural India. When he insists that his brother take him with him as he goes looking for work one evening, he ends up falling asleep on an out of service train and is locked in all the way back to the depot some 1,400km away.
Lost in a completely alien city and not speaking the language (having travelled from his native Hindi speaking area to Kolkata where Bengali is spoken), young Saroo somehow manages to end up in an orphanage and from there adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty five years later, Saroo is attending a course on hotel management when he begins to realise he must find his mother and brother, a task not helped by not knowing the proper name of his village…
The standout performance in this movie is easy to spot from the outset. Non-professional actor Sunny Pawar plays the young Saroo and he is absolutely mesmerising. A study of giant eyes and wonderfully filled with youthful exuberance and spirit, he faces the astonishing challenges with a positive attitude, putting his older, sulkier self to shame. As a performance though it’s nothing short of astonishing from someone in their first movie. Dev Patel picks up well with the elder Saroo and there are great supporting performances especially from Divian Ladwa as Saroo’s troubled adopted brother Mantosh. Nicole Kidman is touching as Sue Briely, the woman responsible for the adoptions.
The script moves along nicely though the movie probably runs a little on the long side at just north of two hours. Filled with well rounded characters, authentic Indian settings and emotionally charged without resulting to sentimentality, Lion is very much in the Slumdog Millionaire mould. Unafraid to tackle subjects like child abuse, parenting and mental health, this is an impressively put together movie.