Where are you from?
Most of us know the answer to this question. We even take it for granted. I mean, what kind of a question is that? But what if you do not know the answer? How does that change you as a person? How does your existence carry meaning any more when you realise that all that you are is a result of the people around you and nothing more? Do you accept it and let it go? Do you devote yourself into the search of all searches? You may choose your path. However, it is a question that, like most other questions related to a person’s identity, cannot be ignored.
Lion, by debutante director Garth Davis, is a film that attempts to explore these very questions. It does so through the protagonist, Saroo Brierley. This is the story of a boy who falls asleep on a train and finds himself in Kolkata. Not knowing the language or the name of his own village, the boy wanders around. He cannot read or write and is from a poor family. Add to that the sheer hustle and bustle of India and hence, the child falls through the cracks in the system. He finally gets adopted by an Australian family, gets a home and stays there thereon.
It is during this particular part of the movie that Lion excels. The great direction and cinematography deserve enormous credit here. There is no attempt to ‘glamourize’ the poverty in India. There are no clichés, out of the ordinary or even unrealistic. Everything is displayed as it is, leaving the audience to form their own opinions. Add to that the phenomenal performance of Sunny Pawar and all you get is a compelling hour that shows the hell Saroo goes through.
We see and feel the helplessness of a child who might as well have been lost on an alien planet. Every day for him is a struggle to survive, with scraps left behind by people is treated as food and a simple piece of cardboard becomes his bed. The relief is palpable when he is finally adopted by the Brierly family and he is ensured a decent living as life moves on for him. Pawar is an absolute delight in the few scenes he has with Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. His performance is nothing short of legendary. There were many times I felt he was not even acting.
There are some Indian actors who show up during Saroo’s stay in Kolkata. Dipti Naval and Nawazuddin Siddiqui standout from amongst them. The always reliable Naval plays the part of the children inspector to perfection but it is Nawazuddin, as usual, who emerges the winner. A single scene is all he has and it is the mark of true genius as to how disgusted the viewer may feel after watching him. Priyanka Bose and Abhishek Bharate play Saroo’s mother and brother, respectively. The brother’s role, Guddu, while brief is brilliant at developing Saroo’s character. As for Priyanka, talking about her too much would be a spoiler but let’s just say her performance will leave you in tears.
It stands to reason, thus, having watched the first half of this movie that the second could feel a little less impactful. That assumption though not completely, is accurate. Dev Patel plays the older version of the character and to his credit, he does it to perfection. His sheer terror at not knowing what to say when people ask him where he’s from. Or the elation he exudes when he can finally answer that question is a sight to behold. His character, ironically transitions from the privileged Australian-Indian youngster to a torn clothed, messy haired ruffian who does not know where or what he is. He is right where he started. Panel’s performance is flawless. But it is the writing here that lets him down a bit.
The aforementioned transition seems rushed. One moment we see Saroo pursue a career in Hotel Management whereas the five minutes later we watch him contemplate his existence. While every scene is impactful, the slightly rushed writing cannot help but engender some dissatisfaction. But thankfully, that is not the case with anything else. It takes only a few, excellently performed scenes, to show Saroo’s relationship with his adopted parents. Ben Winham is ably cast as the supportive father but does not have much to do here. It is Nicole Kidman who is given the dramatic material to chew on and she does a wonderful job. There is a small revelation she talks to Saroo about, towards the end of the film, and it is a testament to the actress that I heard at least one person sniff in the audience.
Perhaps the weakest part of the film is Saroo’s relationship with Lucy, played by Rooney Mara. While her acting, like everyone else’s in the film, is excellent, it is the writing that fails her and their characters’ relationship. Credit is deserved in the fact that all clichés that a film like this could have been ridden with are nowhere to be found here. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the romance between Saroo and Lucy. Though rushed and shoddy in execution, it still holds you in its grasp when you watch them crumble as she begs him to let him help her but it is he who pushes her away.
The writing does have its flaws, no doubt, but it does not take away much from the overall film. Lion is still an emotional story about a man searching for himself and his true home. It may seem emotionally manipulative at times, but that is the whole point. It would be hard not to feel emotional when you watch someone go through what Saroo Brierley did. Even at its weakest, the film keeps us engaged and does lets us go till the climax, which nary will watch teary eyed. If nothing else, it is a must watch for all its brilliant performances and a story that stays with you.
Our Verdict: 3.5/5
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