MOVIE REVIEW: Lion leaves a lasting impression
I REMEMBER watching the emotional reunion of Saroo Brierley and his birth mother on 60 Minutes.
It was an amazing story of determination against impossible odds.
After tagging along with his older brother to the train station near their central Indian village, five-year-old Saroo accidentally fell asleep on an empty carriage. When he woke up, the train had already transported him to a foreign landscape.
He would eventually make his way off the carriage in the bustling metropolis of Calcutta (now Kolkata), where he dodged the many dangers of the streets to eventually end up in an orphanage which matched him with a Tasmanian couple looking to adopt.
He grew up in Hobart, soon forgetting his native Hindi language. But he never forgot his Indian family and with the advent of Google Earth he began tracing every train line out of Calcutta in the hope of finding the landmarks he fleetingly remembered from his journey.
One day he struck gold and travelled back to Khandwa, in Madhya Pradesh, 25 years after his disappearance to find his mother Kamla and his younger sister still living in the same neighbourhood.
I shed a tear or two at the 60 Minutes story. It was touching to see his two mothers, strangers who didn't even speak the same language, embracing each other as family.
Watching Lion, the big-screen adaptation of Saroo's memoir A Long Way Home, was like a full-blown waterworks show.
I really wasn't prepared for the emotional response I had to this film.
Lion, the feature film debut by Australian director Garth Davis, chronicles young Saroo's disappearance, his adoption and the years of his online search for his birth family.
Newcomer Sunny Pawar, who was five years old when he landed the role, is absolutely captivating, carrying the first half of the film with the support of Abhishek Bharate, who plays Saroo's older brother Guddu.
The scenes where Saroo is locked in the empty passenger train, alone and frightened, as it chugs its way to Calcutta are particularly emotional despite the lack of dialogue.
Even though you know Saroo will survive his ordeal and eventually get adopted, it doesn't stop you from tensing up and fearing for him as he faces challenge after challenge with only his instinct to protect him.
I hardly even noticed the first half of this film is entirely in Hindi with English subtitles. It's a brave move from Davis, but one that adds to the authenticity of the childhood scenes filmed in India and what must have been a culture shock for young Saroo when he arrived in Australia.
Dev Patel does an equally great job carrying the second half of the film, which follows Saroo's budding romance with university classmate Lucy (Rooney Mara) and his turbulent relationship with his adoptive brother Mantosh as well as his tireless Google Earth search.
Nicole Kidman also gives a powerful performance as Saroo's adoptive mum Sue.
The film's final scenes, when Saroo finally reunites with his mother Kamla, are understated yet powerful.
Davis doesn't tug on your heartstrings because he doesn't need to. The astonishing, real-life story does that for him. And thankfully, he lets it speak for itself rather than drowning it in sugary sap.
Lion opens nationally on January 19.
Stars: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, David Wenham, Rooney Mara.
Director: Garth Davis
Verdict: 4.5/5 stars