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  • Articles by Sonali

    Film review: Lion

    The film Lion, an adoption drama, is based on Saroo Brierley’s real-life memoir, A Long Way Home. It looks at Saroo’s experience of being adopted and his search for his real family in India, exploring universal themes of childhood, family and dislocation. Lion is directed by Garth Davis and adapted for the screen by Luke Davies. It takes place in three stages. The first part focuses on Saroo (Sunny Pawar) aged 5, when he’s still living in India with his poor, but close knit, family. His childhood seems relatively idyllic and carefree.

    Saroo is separated from his mother and brother Guddu after he takes the wrong train, ending up in Kolkata, thousands of miles away from his home. We next see him amongst the other homeless children in Kolkata’s bustling Howrah station in starkly affecting scenes filmed using a hand held camera which imparts a documentary authenticity. The performances here are very naturalistic, especially from newcomer Pawar. After dodging danger, Saroo is sent to an orphanage where he’s eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley(David Wenham).

    He then travels to their well-appointed home in green and leafy Tasmania. Dev Patel plays the grown up Saroo who now grows up in a very different environment, away from his impoverished family. Good nutrition, an education, wind-surfing and home comforts are available to him. He forgets his Hindi.

    Nevertheless, he experiences flashbacks from his childhood (he remembers a landmark, a large rain tank near his home), while he’s at college in Melbourne. There's glimpses of scenic Tasmania and multicultural Melbourne in the background, but the focus is on his internal struggle to come to terms with his identity.

    Saroo becomes increasingly obsessed by his past. What follows could be dreamt up but actually happens in real life.  A college friend suggests that Saroo uses Google Earth (a satellite aerial imagery program) to find his hometown and his real family back in India. Unfortunately he struggles with the technology at first, when he’s seen staring into his laptop. Apparently he was using an early version of the program.  We get a sense of the trauma he’s going through but the story lags as a result.

    We also see how this effects his relationship with his foster parents, especially foster mother Sue. The scenes between Sue and Saroo are full of anguish with lots of camera close ups. Dev Patel communicates Saroo’s inner turmoil. Nicole Kidman also convinces in her portrayal of Sue Brierley, perhaps because of her personal experience of being a foster mother.

    The pace picks up again in the final stage of Saroo’s journey when he travels back to India to be reunited with his birth family. The ending could have been over the top and cheesy but it manages to be uplifting and restrained. We see real life footage of Saroo with his mother Fatima Munshi and foster mother Sue. We also learn that over 80 000 children go missing in India every year.

    The film is too long, and the first part, with its lightness of touch, outshines the heavy-going chapter that takes place in Australia. But the combination of its restrained approach, nuanced acting, beautiful cinematography and powerful musical soundtrack give it a poetic resonance. Lion is billed as a ‘feel good’ film but it stands out for the sincere treatment of its serious subject matter.


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