Growing up in West Bengal and being a native of the sister state of Odisha, we used to travel a lot by train. Every journey would be a kaleidoscope of myriad sights and smells and sounds. Being a small child, I stood with bated breath, waiting to jump onto the next platform and embark on an unforeseen adventure. My mother, knowing my inclinations only too well, came up with the most absurd yet terrifying stories of big fat men who stole little children just like me and turned them into beggars on the streets. As if to reinforce the horrid examples, she would point towards the ragged kids running on the platforms as one of those who had not listened to their mothers and left home to play – “Look how they live now. They don’t even have anything to eat. Do you want to be like them ?”
Garth Davis’ Lion grabs you from the safe habitat of your train’s compartment and throws you in the midst of that world which exists only outside your train’s window – that elusive world where people stare at the passing engine with hopes in their eyes but no way to escape from the vagaries of life. Five-year old Saroo and his older brother Guddu live in a small community of daily wage laborers, somewhere in rural Madhya Pradesh, a province in India. With no real source of income, they would leave home every morning and scavenge for scrap or coal that they would then sell for some rations to take home to their mother. Their young mother, who has surrendered herself to the tyranny of fate, would never ask where they got the food but quietly bless them for their effort. Their unprivileged yet simple life of togetherness is all they have. One fateful evening, Guddu asks him to wait for him at the railway station, their usual haunt, and goes off to find some food. The little boy waits for his older brother for several hours before he starts to realise that he had been away later than usual. Fearing for his brother and his only friend, Saroo runs out in search for him within empty trains, on the platforms and even on the tracks. As he is looking for him one of the trains lets off the station and gathers speed. Stricken with terror, he haplessly calls out his brother’s name through the barred windows but home and his family had now been left far behind. After several hours of travel, he comes across a large station and jumps out into the crowd, perhaps catching an imaginary glimpse of his brother. Exhausted and confused by the melee of humanity, he lies down under a foot-tunnel with some other children just like him – rejected from society, hungry and homeless.
Little does he know that life wasn’t to be so simple for him. He wakes up in the middle of the night amidst cries and watches as dark shadows swoop in on the kids and take them off one by one. Escaping from those monsters, he comes across a kind lady, Noor (played by the talented Tannistha Chatterjee), who pretends to take care of him but he soon realizes that she is not what she seems. In an opportune moment, he gets out safe and stumbles onto some child support activists who take him to a home for destitute children.
This is where his uncertain future takes a turn for good. A kind Australian couple, The Brierleys, adopt him and take him in as their own child. Decades later, Saroo is now a handsome young man, doing very well in life but is constantly haunted by flashbacks of his childhood and past life. The only clue that he has of his village’s location is the convoluted word from the mouth of his childhood self which he can’t even find on Google. Saroo’s search for his roots soon becomes an obsession as he distances himself from his family and friends. This true story is the culmination of his decades long search – right from the day he got lost till the day he found his way back.
It is astounding how well Davis and his team capture the essence of an India which is usually hidden away from the world and never publicized, in order to paint a picture of prosperity and juggernautical development. Grieg Fraser’s astounding cinematography brings his legacy of bringing authenticity on screen from his previous projects such as Zero Dark Thirty and The Foxcatcher among others. The casting team also do a phenomenal job when after auditioning thousands of kids, they find the little powerhouse of Sunny Pawar who would play little Saroo with all his wide-eyed innocence and honesty. Even though he lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Mehershah Ali, Dev Patel gives one of his best performances till date through a character who struggles deeply with his own identity and sense of responsibility towards a family he has not seen in 20 years. Nicole Kidman and David Wenham are the quintessential caring parents who never once treated Saroo as someone who had been adopted from another country, providing for him and giving him the best life any parent can. The film gives us some of the most compelling characters who are intertwined by fate across great distances.
Lion is a powerful story of love, humanity and the sense of belonging. The simple yet profound narrative of a little boy losing himself in the world is something we all can relate with. As we grow up, even though we may not get separated from our families literally, we do get distanced from them in a certain sense of the word. Saroo teaches us that no matter where we go, no matter what we do, we hold a certain responsibility towards our roots. Your family would always be waiting for you, with the same teary-eyed longing, even if you don’t get to see them for ages. Lion teaches us to stay grounded to our roots for that is who we are.
gobblpoint: Lion will melt your heart and make you cry. Take your family with you and by the end of it, you will find yourself holding onto them more closely than you ever had.
Catch a glimpse of the real Saroo Brierley with his mother Sue, in an interview by Studio 10:
Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of the makers of the film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.