Friday, March 24, 2017

LION (2016): The Return Home to India

Lion is one of those movies that begins strong, slows down significantly around halfway through, and picks up somewhat towards the end.  Yet that first half of the film is magnificent.

In 1986, five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his family live in a small village in India and struggle daily to put food on the table.  His brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) often steals coal from trains and engages in other schemes to raise money.  Their mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), makes a living through collecting rocks.  When adding on the time spent raising her three children, such grueling labor appears almost to be too much for her.

One evening Saroo convinces Guddu to let him go along with his brother on one of his sojourns towards the local train station.  Saroo too tired to continue following his brother lays down on the bench for a nap.  When Saroo wakes up later, he enters a train in the station to see what is inside.   Saroo ends up locked inside the train and unable to get off.  The train then leaves the station heading east, and Saroo is unable to escape the train until its arrival in Calcutta – approximately1500 kilometers away.

Raised in the heart of India, Saroo is unable to speak the Bengal dialect.  Nor is he able to accurately tell anyone exactly where he came from.   After some misadventures, he ends up in an orphanage where conditions are brutal.  However, a young Australian couple eventually adopts him.  His new parents include Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham).  Later, the couple also adopts another Indian boy named Mantosh.  Unlike Saroo who seems to adopt easily to his new home, Mantosh is emotionally troubled.

This ends the first half of the film.  The second half involved a grownup Saroo (Dev Patel), who seemingly does well in life but who is haunted by the family that he left behind in India.  Sue and John are loving parents to Saroo.  Saroo also has a beautiful girlfriend named Lucy (Rooney Mara).  Yet he is unhappy.  He obsesses over where he came from and eventually, through studying Google maps, discovers the location of his India home – a village by the name of Ganesh Talai.  Saroo in 2012 then journeys to India and finds his biological mother and sister still alive.  Tragically, Guddu had died back in 1986 when struck by a train.

Ironically, the child actors Sunny Pawar and Abhishek Bharate provide more emotional punch to Lion than any of the adult (and professional) actors save Nicole Kidman.  Kidman’s acting, as well as a strong storyline, is what keep the two halves of the film together.  The two child actors play their roles perfectly.  Sunny Pawar brings warmth to his role, and Abhishek Bharate is entirely believable as a street-smart kid who cares deeply for his younger brother.  Dev Patel his role as the adult Saroo conventionally well.  Rooney Mara as the girlfriend adds practically nothing to the film.

There had to be a second half to complete this film.  And at 118 minutes, the film moves along at a good pace.  Sadly, we lose the magic during this second half that the child actors bring to the beginnings of the film.  Inevitably, there was a letdown.   

Still, the first half of the film shows remarkably well what is both fascinating and sad about a great country like India. India consists of beautiful people who in large part live in poverty.  The photography of Lion portrays this well.  We see the beauty in the faces of Saroo’s family and fellow villagers.  We see the poverty during the train trip to Calcutta.  This footage allows us to understand why Saroo so long wants to return to his India family.

March 24, 2017

 © Robert S. Miller 2017