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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Piku (2015) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone & Irrfan Khan

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Piku (Deepika Padukone) gets ready to clean the house; the maid was fired by her father.

I heard about this film from MANY young (20s/30s) desi people.  It was released in the Spring of 2015; it’s NOT a typical Bollywood film, though the stars hail from mainstream Indian cinema. Amitabh Bachchan (Bhashkor Banerjee) and Deepika Padukone (Piku) play Delhi-based Bengali father and daughter respectively. One of my favorite actors- Irrfan Khan (Rana) plays the driver who takes them from Delhi to Calcutta.   

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Father (Amitabh Bachchan) and daughter (Deepika Padkone) share a hug.

General Thoughts about the Film:

‘Piku’ is about relationships and responsibility. You feel for the characters & that kind of connect, is a huge bonus for any film. 

what is wrong with movies that are mostly dialogue and the interactions of close knit families? I found it realistic and I am not from India. Seemed kind of representative of one of the elements of the universal human experiences to me.

Excerpts from IMDB reviews

If you’re a sensitive viewer who takes offense to toilet humor, this is film is NOT for you!  In fact, there is NOT much to the story, aside from the road trip that this trio (along w/ a loyal manservant) go on.  Piku is a very concerned, stressed-out young architect who lives w/ her 70 y.o. cranky and constipated father.  She is a partner in a small architecture firm w/ her friend, Syed (Jishu Sengupta).  Though Piku is nearing 30 and not yet married, her father isn’t concerned.  Syed sets her up w/ a single guy he knows, BUT Piku has nothing in common w/ him.

Marriage without purpose is for the low IQ.  -Bhaskor’s philosophy on marraige 

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Rana (Irrfan Khan) and Piku (Deepika Padukone) share a snack on the road

Opinions re: Irrfan Khan’s performance

Irrfan is fabulous. He’s given some of the film’s best moments and the talented actor only elevates those moments with his superior act.

Irrfan Khan is known for his gifted talent of never disappointing his viewers. With this film, once again, he proves how worthy his presence is.

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Rana (Irrfan Khan) and Piku (Deepika Padukone) seeing the sights of Kolkata.

The MAIN reason I wanted to see this film (now streaming on Netflix) was Irrfan Khan.  Though Rana now runs his family’s car rental business, he had planned for in a different life.  He is a decent, hardworking man w/ family obligations of his own.  Rana has a LOT of patience- he’ll need that on the road w/ Piku and her father! 

Dear Zindagi (NOW PLAYING)

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Kaira (Alia Bhatt) working behind-the-scenes on a music video.

This is a MUST-SEE film (written/directed by Gauri Shinde) for anyone who has given up on Bollywood, thinking it TOO old-fashioned, formulaic, and obsessed solely w/ romance!  Kaira (Alia Bhatt, who also starred in 2 States) is a cinematographer in her early 20s who finds that avoiding romantic commitment does NOT always bring happiness.  She breaks up w/ her businessman boyfriend.  Then one of the other guys in her life, Raghu (Kunal Kapoor- who I first saw in Aaja Nachle), offers her a “dream job” in NYC.  And we can tell that Raghu wants to be MORE than friends!

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Kaira (Alia Bhatt) jokes with Raghu (Kunal Kapoor)

Kaira’s close friends, including Fatima (Fatty) and Jackie, grow concerned about her changing attitude and personality.  Anger bubbles up out of nowhere, she can’t sleep for MANY nights, and loses her Mumbai apartment (when tenants decide that ONLY married couples should live in their building).  Kaira is forced to go back to her hometown (Goa) and reevaluate her life.  To make things worse, Raghu suddenly gets engaged to his ex-girlfriend after they reconnect on that NYC movie set!

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Kaira meets with her therapist Dr. Khan (Shah Rukh Khan)

Finally, Shah Rukh has chosen a role that is apt for his age. His screen presence is definitely a treat to his fans! Alia Bhatt is definitely lucky in the aspect that she got a good role that aligns with her personality and of course she has excelled it!  -Excerpt from a IMDB review

Enter Dr. Jehangir Khan(Shah Rukh Khan), an psychologist who happens to love ripped jeans (just as Kaira does).  She is VERY reluctant to open up about her life, BUT he gains her trust w/ his patience, unorthodox methods, and (most crucial)- a judgment-free mind. At a beachside bar, Kaira and Jackie meet Rumi (Ali Zafar- who hails from Pakistan), a free-spirited singer/songwriter.  Zafar reminded me of Gael Garcia Bernal; his songs were pretty good, too. 

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Kaira listens intently to Dr. Khan during one of their sessions.

Kaira is eventually able to discuss her friendships (which she needs to pay MORE attention to), past romances (which she cut off when then men got TOO close), and her family (overbearing w/ their traditional expectations).  Aside from the typical pains of life as a young adult, there is something specific in Kaira’s childhood that is holding her back from the life that she wants.  

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Dr. Khan and Kaira sing an impromptu little song

Pluses- story, acting, cinematography; second half, the scenes which feature SRK and Alia. The family moments of Kiara and her family, her friends. The execution of the entire movie from event to event. The whole final act which leaves you in a happy mood. The breakdown sequence. The maturity in the direction which takes the movie into a new level. The dialogue given to SRK. Negatives- The music is good but isn’t great. The editing in the first half could have been better.

-Excerpt from another IMDB review

There were a FEW moments in where I was reminded of In Treatment (HBO), BUT this is an original story which has (probably) never been told in a mainstream Indian film.  Going into therapy is demystified in this film, which I think could be it’s best legacy.