“Lion”

 

            Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is a five-year-old boy living somewhere in the rural slums of India.  His father is AWOL, but his mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), tries her best to provide for Saroo and her older son, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), as well as her baby daughter.  She collects rocks from a quarry.  Saroo and Guddu try their best to supplement the family income, sometimes by stealing coal from a passing train and selling it at the local market to buy milk.  There's no school.  They live simply and quietly, but they are happy because they have each other.

            One evening Guddu goes off to find some night work, unloading containers.  Saroo begs to go with him, saying he can lift anything, and reluctantly Guddu agrees.  But when Saroo grows tired, Guddu leaves him on the bench at the railway station, telling him to stay right there.

            But Saroo wakes up and finds himself completely alone, and decides to look on the train for Guddu.  The train takes off, and Saroo is stuck on it.  For a couple of days.  He suddenly finds himself in the big city (Calcutta), where surviving as a street urchin is almost impossible, because he doesn't even speak the same dialect.  He's almost relieved to find himself in an orphange.  But life there is harsh and unloving.  They are treated strictly and punished corporally for any infraction of the many rules.  But for once, fortune smiles on Saroo.  He is adopted by an Australian family, and is immediately flown to the island of Tasmania to meet them.

            Of course it's not easy, at first.  Saroo trusts his new “Mum,” Sue (Nicole Kidman) and “Dad” John (David Wenham).  But the cultural adaption has to go at its own pace.  Things aren't made any easier when John and Sue decide to adopt another Indian from the orphanage, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), who suffers from some kind of asocial depressive condition which causes him to strike himself frequently and forcefully.  And you're thinking of the kindly adoptive parents, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

            Fast-forward 25 years.  Saroo (Dev Patel) is now thoroughly acclimaited into Australian culture, even adopting their accent and their slang.  He's enrolled in a hotel management course where he meets a nice American girl, Lucy (Rooney Mara, who, ironically, is known for her bad-girl roles, but plays it straight here).  But something starts unraveling inside Saroo.  He finds himself longing to find his “real” Mother and brother again, even though he keeps assuring “Mum” Sue that it's not like he doesn't appreciate what she's done.  He just needs to go back to let them know he's still alive.  The trouble is, he doesn't remember where “home” is.  The name of the town he remembers doesn't appear on anyone's map.  He tries plotting out the co-ordinates of every possible town within a two-day train radius of Calcutta, but that encompasses practically all of India.  He can't even find any help on Google Maps.  But by now he's become so obsessed that he's run off Lucy and managed to disappoint Sue and John because of the way he quit his job and turned his back on Mantosh, who's not easy to love, anyway.

            But one day the breakthrough comes.  He manages to find out the real name of his little town, which wasn't exactly how he remembered it, but then again, eventually he finds out that he'd been misspelling his own name, as well (his actual name means “Lion” in Hindi, hence the title of the film).

            What follows is the emotional reunion much like Saroo often dreamed about, except of course not everything is the same, nor is everyone he remembers still around.  But at last he is reunited with his birth family, which doesn't, in fact, cause him to forsake his adoptive family, but instead renew his appreciation for them.  Yes, it's a tear-jerker.  But it's also a true story.  And we meet the “real” Saroo, and both his “Moms,” at the end.

            Emotional impact?  You bet.  And Director Garth Davis hones his film with such viewer identification that “sometimes you feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.”

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever known foster children to long for contact with their “birth” parents?  Did that turn out well for all concerned?

2)                  Were you ever lost as a little child?  Do you remember how frightened you were?  How were you “found”?

3)                  Have you ever “lost” a child in a mall or a supermarket, even temporarily, and recall the moments of pure panic that ensued?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association