What happens when a Boyleish accented Oliver Twist shares a Vittorio De Sica's feeling to pay homage to emotionally resonate Manmohan Desai of Bollywood? The rapidly 'lost' hope of a universally appealing heart-wrenching, uplifting tale of courage, resilience, love and humanity is 'found'.
Blowing the infectious air of optimism throughout its 139 minutes duration, Australian director Garth Davis (first feature, significant work in drama series like TOP OF THE LAKE, already) makes sure that LION - the Luke Davis on screen adaptation of the non-fiction book 'A Long Way Home' by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose, makes the most stoned hearted leave teary eyed. LION is an exceptionally captivating, powerfully performed piece of cinema that beautifully amalgamates the internet technology (Google earth) with human emotions, their family and home wherever they are with profound effect.LION MOVIE POSTER
Luke Davis pens a classy and enthralling screenplay based on the real life story of Saroo (Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel in different ages) from Khandwa in India's Madhya Pradesh, the place known for giving the legendary Kishore Kumar to this world.
The five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) opens the scene and we see how his childhood gets stolen for the quest of making ends meet with his elder brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Saroo's mother (Priyanka Bose) is a laborer straight from any Bollwood potboilers but Luke Davis ensures subtlety and control making it look authentic and real connecting it to the core. Saroo also has a sister Shekila (Khushi Solanki playing the young part). One night Saroo manages to convince Guddu to let him come along with him to earn some money at night at the railway station. Unable to control his sleep, Saroo is left alone at the station by Guddu. Panic strikes Guddu as he wakes up after a while and boards in what we believe must be a decommissioned train. Falling asleep again in the train Saroo wakes up to find it moving, taking him 1,600 kilometers away to Calcutta.
The emotionally charged scene of a helpless Saroo trying to find his way out inside a running train begins the five year old child's journey of determination and courage that highlights the disturbing fact that 80,000 children go missing in India every year, falling prey to crime, abuse etc. Saroo narrowly escapes child abductors and is taken to an orphanage. The disturbingly haunting scene in that dingy orphanage choked me when sleepless children gathered some courage at night to hum ''Chanda ko dhundne sabhi taare nikal pade'' when a child is taken by a person who is suppose to take care of him and protect him.
Luck favors Saroo and Mrs. Sood ( Deepti Naval) helps him in getting adopted by Australian couple Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham). Before that Saroo in his innocence and bad faith fails to give proper details about his mother and is told that no one from his family turned up for him.
Well groomed Saroo after twenty years (Dev Patel) is now a Hotel Management aspirant, while his adopted parent's second adaptation Mantosh (Divian Ladwa) from the same orphanage couldn't come out completely from the horror of abuse and gets fits periodically.
While having Indian food in a hang out with his Hotel Management friends that includes a couple of Indians, Saroo's haunting quest to get back to his roots gets momentum at the sight of his childhood sweet fantasy - jallebi (a popular sweet dish in India).
Rest is how Saroo finds his way back to his roots in India with the help of Google earth app in this strikingly enthralling and emotionally uplifting piece of cinema that actually is based on a real story makes it a rare experience on screen.
Garth Davis debut may find some comparisons with Boyle's modern masterpiece SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE as its stars Dev Patel and has the slums, shanty allies and underprivileged characters zest for survival against all odds but still Davis makes LION roar in its sentimental individuality and beautifully poses as a cut above sturdy drama.
Cinematographer Greig Frasier's magnificent lenses capture the beautiful landscapes of Australia and the rugged alleys of Madhya Pradesh's Khandwa. The aerial shots are mind blowing.
The movie has some gem of scenes that leave a lasting impression for example Saroo's mad rush in an empty running train, five year old Saroo's moments with her adopted mother Sue and the kid's first introduction to comforts like bathing tub, TV set etc destined for privilege class is pure class.
Dev Patel as the 20+ Saroo in the Australian accent is perfect. Nicole Kidman in a de glamorized role leaves her mark especially when she shares her trauma to Dev. David Wenham as Kidman's husband is fine. Rooney Mara as Dev's BFF is fantastic. Divian Ladwa as the disturbed Mantosh is very good.
Deepti Naval as Mrs Sood is competent. Priyanka Bose as Saroo's mother is simply superb. Abhishek Bharate as Guddu is fabulous. However, the movie belongs to Sunny Pawar, playing the five year old Saroo, this child wonder is magical in his amazing naturalness on screen and is a sheer delight to watch him perform.
On the flip side, people may question the eagerness of Saroo to find his roots immediately after the advent of Google earth. The predictability factor does sets in and lighter moments are hard to find.
With the pros overwhelming overpowering the cons, LION roars its way in the list of Hollywood movies that can make Indians and Indian filmmakers proud for its theme like AVATAR (based on reincarnation), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (a Hollywood potboiler inspired by Bollywood masalas and the prolific Manmohan Desai's lost and found themes) in 'real' sense as this Garth Davis adaptation of 'A Long Way Home' by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose is undeniably a story that deserves to be told and is told in a universally appealing, emotionally charging and cinematically uplifting manner. P.S. (If you don't feel teary eyed even once during the entire 2 hrs 19 minutes duration of LION, then it's advisable to get the check up of your heart done)