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Adapted from the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, LION is about a five-year-old Indian boy who, after a wrong train takes him thousands of miles away from home and family, survives many challenges before being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only the scantest of clues, he learns of a new technology called Google Earth, and sets out to find his lost family.
'Lion': little Sunny completely overshadows Dev Patel in 'Lion' (Review By By Subhash K Jha ; Rating: ****)
Apart from the all-encompassing luminosity of little Sunny Pawar -- so young yet so wise -- the one aspect of this soul-stirring journey into the incandescent side of the diaspora is just how Indian at heart is this film about a boy from a remote village in India adopted by an Australian couple.
"Lion" plays with the idea of a duality in self-identity, and in the cultural spiritual and geographical existence for its protagonist Saroo with an enrapturing earnestness. Davis and his writer Luke Davis walk that extra mile to penetrate into the deepest recesses of the diasporic heart.
The film is unabashedly sentimental and, dare one say, unapologetically manipulative, specially in the first hour of playing-time when little Saroo is lost to the world. His world of his mother (Priyanka Bose) and his elder brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate).
The images of little Saroo racing in an empty train that hurls him into the unknown, and then trying to find his way through the cold almost impersonal crowds of Kolkata, are profoundly moving. The lost child is a distant cousin of Chetan Anand's 'Aakhri Khat', although he doesn't even know it.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser's view of Kolkata is very different from the way the city was shot in Roland Joffee' "City Of Joy" 25 years ago. There is more of everything in the Kolkata of "Lion", including corruption, debauchery and child abuse. The images of little Saroo trying to survive in the pitiless city are harrowing and magnificent.
In the sequence where Saroo phantom-feeds himself with a spoon, I was left sobbing unabashedly.
Yes, "Lion" plays it high-stakes for tears, nowhere more so than in the dingy orphanage where little abused, hungry, sleepless children gather their little voices together to sing "Chanda ko dhundne sabhi taare nikal pade".
Occupying centrestage in this dark and desperate world of poverty is little Saroo played with such intuitive wisdom by Sunny Pawar that he makes all the acting schools of the world appear redundant. I am afraid the spark of genius dims in "Lion" once Sunny Pawar grows up into Dev Patel who makes Saroo's cultural and geopolitical desolation seem far too cerebral and far too little reflexive.
A lot of times Patel is seen playing with his flowing tresses or blinking back elegant tears. He is looking at his character's poignancy rather than getting into it. His relationships in his Australian home are way too sporadic and fleeting. That goes for Saroo's half-hearted relationship with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) and more so with his half-brother, the psychologically disturbed Mantosh (Divian Ladwa).
In the one important sequence that the two brothers share -- predictably at the dinner table -- Saroo is shown to be distinctly mean towards Mantosh triggering a psychotic response in the latter.
Yes, there ought to have been more of the two brothers in the plot, and of the Australian mother Sue's valiant but failed attempts to hold together a dysfunctional family. Nicole Kidman as Sue is grossly underused.
The film is edited so severely you feel it's exercising a savage economy over Saroo's emotional spaces which transcend unplumbed stretches of cultural specificity to occupy a kind of baggy free-spirited global significance that could have made for unwieldy cinema. This world of the translocated Indian urchin needed to be restrained. Garth Davis makes sure there is nothing over-done in the presentation.
Very often we get the feeling the director, an exceptional storyteller, is holding back the emotional torrent to avoid creating epic volumes of sentimentality. Nonetheless we wait for Saroo to journey back to his village in Madhya Pradesh to be united with his biological mother, only to be deeply let down by the hammy reunion sobs and atrocious old lady's makeup of Priyanka Bose.
From the Indian cast, Tannishta Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui fare much better in spite of their brief roles. But clearly and without a shadow of doubt "Lion" belongs to little Sunny Pawar, a natural-born actor of such indomitable power, it's scary.
Impressive even awe-inspiring in its emotional velocity, "Lion" is a film that will stay with you for a long time.
'Lion': An emotionally powerful film (Review By Troy Ribeiro ; Rating: ***1/2)
Adapted from Saroo Brierley's autobiography "A Long Way Home", director Garth Davis' "Lion" is an intimately emotional film despite an extremely underwritten screenplay. It is an adopted boy, Saroo's journey in search of his biological mother.
We first meet Saroo (Sunny Pawar) at the age of 5, when he lives with his poor mother, older brother Guddu and younger sister in a shanty in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, India, in 1987. He often accompanies Guddu on trips to steal coal in order to support his family. One day after convincing his brother to let him come along, he accidentally boards a train and falls asleep.
Next thing we know, Saroo is aboard a moving train. He is dropped 1,500 miles away from home in Calcutta. Terrified and unable to speak the language, he undergoes a series of traumatic experiences until he finally ends up being sent to Australia where he is adopted by a loving couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman).
Twenty years later, in Australia, Saroo seems like a privileged young man with a promising future, yet he is haunted by his unresolved past. Thanks to the internet boom, Saroo indulges in his computer and succeeds in his endeavour.
The film with two distinct halves makes for a lopsided film experience, yet one that rallies to the end. Perhaps it is just the fact that Saroo's time as an adult just isn't as interesting as his struggles as a child which shows how a single minute accident can completely alter the course of one's life forever. The beauty of the narrative lies in the dynamics of its simplicity and simultaneous complexity.
Shot on real locales with rustic characters, the telling of this story, without getting too cheesy is strongly reminiscent of "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Salaam Mumbai". What keeps you glued is undoubtedly the performances.
The star of the film is definitely Sunny Pawar. As the young Saroo, he is simply adorable and charming. He portrays Saroo's fear and anxiety with such finesse that you instantly fall in love with him and you root for him. He lays the foundation for Dev Patel who plays the older version.
Saroo's heavy heart comes across loud and clear, with Patel's empathetic performance. He more than lives up the complex emotions required, be it with his foster mother or his girlfriend.
In a subtly evangelistic role, David Wenham as the pragmatic dad John Brierley and Nicole Kidman as Sue, his tightly wounded and easily hurt mother, are sincere.
Rooney Mara as Saroo's girlfriend is wasted in a miniscule role. So are, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as opportunists trying to take advantage of Saroo.
Greig Fraser's camera work is incredible. His dazzling overhead landscapes seamlessly mesh with the images created by Google Earth, thanks to the razor sharp editing by Alexandre de Franceschi.
The background score by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O'Halloran appears overtly syrupy which elevates this heart breaking experience making it an unabashedly melodramatic, and sentimental feel-good film.
Overall if you overlook the few rough spots you may find yourself
loving this completely imperfect film.