LION, one of the best-made films and most involving movie experiences of 2016 has the years single most emotion-charged moment, and it comes at the very end, so don’t miss out by failing to catch this wonderful human saga, an odyssey both epic and personal—and a true story to boot.
Khandwa, India, 1986. Saroo and his older brother become separated at a railway station. Saroo (Sunny Pawar) naps in an empty car on a stopped train. He wakes to find it moving. Days later the express arrives in Calcutta, 1,591 kilometers (989 miles) from home. Saroo is five years old. Wandering the alien, unforgiving city, barely avoiding dangers, he is placed in a teeming orphanage and is soon adopted. His new parents (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham) are kind, prosperous—and Australian: his new home, for the next 25 years is Hobart, Tasmania, 10,200 kilometers (6,338 miles) from Khandwa and his birth family. The mature Saroo (Dev Patel) determines to find, somehow, in the vastness and among the multitudes of India, the home and family he lost to time and memory.
First-time director Garth Davis scored a ‘Boundary Six’ (in cricket, that’s basically a home run, for us mystified Americans) with this captivating biopic adventure: critics clapped, the $12,000,000 production cost was dwarfed by grosses of $132,400,000 and the Academy Awards nominated it for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Patel), Supporting Actress (Kidman), Screenplay, Cinematography and Music Score. All success well earned, richly deserved, as every one of the 118 minutes gifts the audience; with studied technical finesse (the camerawork, editing, scoring), with the privilege of opening a window on the world of the under-privileged, with superior performances, with boundless heart. *
There’s little to say about the work from Patel, Kidman and little Sunny Pawar, other than they’re so good you forget they’re acting and not their real-life counterparts. With laurels galore, the success of this movie brings the disarming 26-year-old Patel to full star status, and at 49, with five dozen movies under her scarf, the fearless Kidman is sailing into a lofty second wind. Selected after a search through 4,000 hopefuls, 8-year-old Pawar has catapulted from a Mumbai slum to a brave new world of opened doors, confiding “hopefully someday I will be able to play a superhero”, but in the meantime “I like to eat a lot and I like to sleep a lot.”
Saroo Brierly wrote the book “A Long Way Home”, the basis for the screenplay adaptation by Luke Davies. His gripping, tragic, inspiring voyage of immeasurable loss, magical salvation and fierce devotion traces a singular yearning human face over the rending statistics: 11,000,000 children live on the streets of India and another 80,000 go missing every year. Safe and sad to say few of those stories have a happy ending (as a companion piece, aside from Patel’s own debut in Slumdog Millionaire, see 2013’s excellent Siddharth).
With Rooney Mara, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, Abhishek Bharati, Tannishta Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
* Nearly all reviews praised the film, but you can count on sour grapes in every pile, from those who affect indifference to emotion under some shiver they’re being ‘manipulated’. Of course you are, Spock—you’re watching a movie/reading a book/listening to music/talking to your mother. A common trope mouthed in response to the callous is “I feel sorry for them”. Sorry, I don’t: I just don’t want to know anyone who could be unmoved by a story like this. I’ll save my ‘sorry’s’ for the countless Saroo ‘manipulators’ these keyboard sophisticates are too fastidious to dredge a yawn over. While alley cats screech at mice, Lion roars.