Lion (2017) starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar & Nicole Kidman

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the movie.

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A poster for the film Lion.

I went to see this MUST-SEE film 3 weeks ago (w/ the NetSAP book club); I had read a FEW chapters of the book upon which its based (A Long Way Home) by Saroo Brierley. The theater (Landmark E St in DC) was packed that SUN afternoon- like nothing I’d seen before! I heard that MANY people has been coming to see La La Land; however, the Oscar buzz had been strong re: several other recent films (incl. Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight). Last year, #OscarsSoWhite was a VERY popular hashtag on Twitter (and other social media); this year, there are diverse movies in the mainstream theaters… AND they’re making money, too.

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Five year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) with his eldest brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate)

As soon as I saw him, he just felt like the kid that I’d been imagining and feeling, and then we got him into the rehearsal space and I put a camera on him. I just felt like we were watching our movie. -Garth Davis, director (on Sunny Pawar)

The MAIN reason to see this film is Sunny Pawar, the unknown child actor who plays Young Saroo. He had never acted before and didn’t speak English. The ONLY other performance I can compare it to is that of the tween Anna Paquin in The Piano. Unlike Paquin, Pawar doesn’t have a LOT of dialogue; he expresses himself mainly through his eyes and actions. At the start of the film, Saroo is living with his siblings and mother (played by Priyanka Bose) in the village of Ganesh Talai in the Khandwa District of Central India. He and his older brother, Guddu, go out each morning in the hopes of getting some change, fruit, or (if they’re lucky) milk. His mother works in a quarry, hauling rocks; her husband left her for another woman in a different town (this is discussed a BIT in the book). They are a happy family, though VERY poor and uneducated.

Sunny Pawar stars in LIONPhoto: Mark Rogers
Young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) in the homeless children’s center in Calcutta.

One night, after Guddu goes off to work (telling him to wait), Young Saroo goes to sleep at the nearby train station. When he wakes up, he doesn’t see ANYONE around, so he gets on an empty train to explore… and it takes off! He ends up in the busy city of Calcutta and somehow survives on the streets for 2 mos. (though he doesn’t know the language, Bengali). One day, a seemingly kind woman, Noor (Tannishtha Chatterjee- star of Brick Lane), living near the train tracks takes him to her apartment. She feeds him, gives him a bath, and asks about his life. Young Saroo suspects something is wrong when Noor’s male friend (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui- one of India’s BEST character actors) visits and checks him out. In no time, the quick-witted (and fast-running) kid is out the door! 

After some time at a crowded homeless center (more like a prison) for kids, Saroo gets the news from Mrs. Sood (a kind social worker) that an Australian couple- Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley- want to adopt him. He wonders if everything possible was done to try and find his mother, and Mrs. Sood confidently says “yes.” The local police had interviewed him, ads had been put in the newspapers, BUT his family was a LONG way from Calcutta (which is located in West Bengal). 

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Sue (Nicole Kidman) and Saroo (Sunny Pawar) meet for the first time.

When Saroo reaches Australia (Tasmania to be exact), he easily takes to his new life w/ the Brierleys, who are solidly middle-class and run a charter boat business. He is a comfort to Sue after the family faces challenges w/ his younger brother, Mantosh, who suffered much before he was adopted (also from India). John instills in Saroo a love of the outdoors. 

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The adult Saroo (Dev Patel) uses Google Earth to find his way home.

Dev Patel does a good job as the grown-up Saroo (incl. accent), a young man who loves his adopted family, but feels compelled to find his birth mother. She “could be out there suffering,” wondering where he is, he tells long-time girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). Some friends in his graduate certificate program think that w/ modern technology (Google Earth) he could try and find his old hometown. 

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Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel at the BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman (an Aussie), has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar; she does a fine job as a kind, understanding, and VERY emotionally strong mother. Saroo and Mantosh are “not blank slates” as her own children would’ve been, Saroo explains in one of my favorite scenes. Sue could’ve had her own (natural) children, she admits, BUT she and John chose to adopt knowing there are already MANY kids out in the world that need good homes. (Kidman, in real life, has adopted children.) 

Another element that makes this SUCH a compelling film is it’s superb editing; the life of the adult Saroo is intercut (at times) w/ that of his younger self. Seeing the plate of jalebi at his Indian friends’ house takes Saroo back to when he saw that sweet treat being fried in the marketplace. The music is very good (never over the top), which is quite suited for the film. This story has a big pay-off in the end, which is true to life!   

 

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9 thoughts on “Lion (2017) starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar & Nicole Kidman

  1. Wow, where has Dev Patel been all my life? 🙂 Well, apart from the fact that he was born during my junior year of college 🙂

    Thanks for the review and the little push — I really loved this film. You’re absolutely right about Sunny Pawar — amazing actor — and really everything you say I agree with. I was immensely moved. The only jarring note was when Dev Patel shows up in Ganesh Thalai and he doesn’t look like anyone from the village. I really loved the camera work and the recurring view of him running home from the train station and the music. Thanks for the tip about N. Siddiqui — he was really creepy. Also the landscape shots (was that India?) and all of the shots in the train station.

    Theater was completely full here, too — smaller venue but every seat was taken. I’ve ordered the book now from the library.

    • Hmmm… from ALL the interviews I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure that the landscape shots were India also. I have friends who were NOT V impressed w/ Dev Patel UNTIL this role- LOL! I thought he did a good job in “The Newsroom” (HBO) & “The Man Who Knew Infinity” (also shot partly in India). He’s pretty young, SO he has PLENTY of time to grow as an actor, even though he has gotten V good opps so far (incl. MANY famous, veteran co-stars).

      • I was looking at a list of his other roles and am not sure I’d seen any of them. But he’s now on the list of actors whose films I want to see.

  2. I’ve just written a review for this too, I loved this film! It was such a powerful story and I loved every minute of it, even if I did cry my eyes out from start to finish! Loved your review. Amy

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