To the cynical among us, Lion may seem to be a two-hour advert for Google Earth, and I did fear that the movie would end there. Thankfully, the scenes where it is featured fit naturally with the storyline and there are no corny lines exulting the virtues of Google Earth that jar with the conversations. I was also afraid that the movie would also be a stretched out story that could have been dealt with in 30 minutes – well, a 30-minute documentary can certainly cover the key points but it will be devoid of the emotions that are central to the movie.
Saroo (played so beautifully by both Sunny Pawar as a boy and Dev Patel as a grown-up) was separated from his brother Guddu in a station in India. Both Saroo and Guddu, along with their younger sister Shekila were raised by their mother (played by Priyanka Bose) – a stone labourer. Saroo ended up in Calcutta – in the eastern part of India. In Calcutta, Saroo was sent to an orphanage and then subsequently flown to Tasmania, to be adopted by Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). The film then tells a story of Saroo’s attempt to retrace his roots and find his biological mother, based on his childhood memory and the aid of Google Earth.
As much as I came with a healthy dose of cynicism, Sunny Pawar‘s natural and beautiful acting as the young Saroo, destroyed that. I couldn’t help crying when Saroo was separated from his brother. Nicole Kidman portrays Sue Brierley very well as well – her acting seems natural and not artificial (which I thought I’d encounter in this movie). Dev Patel is also great as the grown-up Saroo (as usual) – he doesn’t sound phoney as an Aussie, as some actors do when they speak with an Australian accent.
The scenes in Lion are also beautifully captured and framed – whilst they capture India’s poverty and chaotic energy, they don’t feel like poverty porn at all. There is dignity and joy that is shown through the film. The movie loses some of its mojo towards the end when it chronicles the adult Saroo’s quest to find his former hometown and birth mother – the almost poetic scenes of the early part of the movie are somehow muddled. The director, Garth Davis, tries to inject some of this by putting Guddu in some of the scenes. It works towards the end when Saroo is back in India, but some of the scenes in Tasmania felt forced and contrived. Lion is Garth Davis’ directorial debut and I will certainly keep an eye on his future films.