With 6 Oscar nominations – including Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress – and numerous wins already under its belt, Lion is one of the must-see films of the moment. Based on a true story, with the screenplay adapted from the autobiographical book “A Long Way Home”, we follow Saroo Brierley, first as a five year old (played by newcomer Sunny Pawar) and later as a grown man (Dev Patel). As a child Saroo is separated from his mother and brother when he is trapped on a moving decommissioned passenger train that takes him to the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometres from home. Too young to know his home address he has no way of finding his way back, and after months of living on the streets and facing some horrific ordeals for a young boy, he is finally picked up and taken to an orphanage. Here he is adopted by a couple in Australia, John (David Wenham) and Sue (Nicole Kidman) Brierley, who take him back to Tasmania and raise him as their own, giving him a happy and safe upbringing. As a grown man Saroo has everything he could want, but he is plagued by memories of his early childhood. Without informing John and Sue, Saroo starts a quest to track down his birth mother and brother, but this soon takes over his life and becomes so all consuming that he pushes away his family, friends and girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). After much searching, there is finally a breakthrough and twenty-five years after he became lost, Saroo finally returns home.
Visually, Lion is stunning. There are plenty of extreme close-ups on characters to really bring out the emotional moments, particularly with the younger Saroo in order to show the vulnerability of his character. The film is peppered with flashbacks as the older Saroo remembers his birth mother, these are tinged with gold to show us the love surrounded by these memories and to enforce his desire to find her again. Nominated for a Supporting Actor role, Dev Patel gives an exceptional performance as the older Saroo. The desperation to find his true self is evident but the guilt he feels towards wanting to find the truth without hurting the feelings of his adopted parents means he is torn. This is all perfectly shown by Dev, and this nomination can only take him further in his career. I have always liked his acting (going back 10 years to his role as Anwar in the British TV show Skins!) and feel his talent hasn’t been fully appreciated before now. There is no doubt after his performance in Lion that he is truly deserving of the award, and I shall have my fingers crossed for him!
However, the true stand out of the film is newcomer Sunny Pawar. Even though he is only 8 years old he gives a truly remarkable performance as the young Saroo. Maybe it’s because he looks so young and vulnerable but his scenes are all heart-wrenching, particularly when he is alone on the streets of Calcutta screaming for his mother. Sunny has taken on a very challenging role but this hasn’t stopped him, he manages to portray the vulnerability needed in this character perfectly. Sunny is definitely one to watch and hopefully this is just the start of a very long career for him!
Overall, Lion is a very powerful film, one that will move you emotionally and get you really thinking about how hard life is for young children on the streets of places like Calcutta. There are some scenes which are quite tough to watch, the young Saroo is placed in some very dangerous situations which unfortunately happen in real life all the time. The fact that it is all based on a true story really hits home and the film is beautifully finished with pictures of the real Saroo growing up and even recent video footage of Saroo with his birth mother. There are also some startling facts about how many children go missing in India and an appeal to help, which only adds to the power that this film already emits. Lion is definitely a film that everyone should see, and it is one that I will be talking about for weeks to come. Hopefully it will be rightly recognised at the Oscars when the day arrives.