The terrifying notion of what might happen were we to lose a loved one, not to death, but to the vast expanse of the world, is embodied in Lion one of the nine Best Picture nominees for the Academy Awards this year.
Based on the extraordinary true story of Saroo Brierley, the film is about how a very young Saroo (played by the gifted Sunny Pawar), who can’t be more than five years old, loses his way in a train station when he tags along with his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) who is just about old enough to add to the income of his extremely impoverished family which consists of the two boys, a younger sister, and their very young mother Kamla (played by the luminous Priyanka Bose) who works at a stone quarry to help eke out the family’s existence in a small one room shack.
In an incredibly unfortunate sequence of events that lead to Saroo’s separation from his family, the little boy, after being separated from his brother at a train station fairly close to home, wanders around and falls asleep on an empty train that is bound for Kolkata, hundreds of miles away from his hometown. The tiny boy goes through a number of nerve-wracking encounters, but finally ends up in an orphanage where a very well put together Bengali lady sets him on a path to adoption claiming that, despite umerous newspaper adds, no one has come forward to claim Saroo – perhaps believable considering that the child was then too young to realise just how far across India he had
Years later, after Saroo’s adoption into a wonderful home by the open hearted Sue and John Brierley (played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) in Hobart, Tasmania, he is reminded of his real family at the house of a fellow student who happens to be Indian. Now in his twenties, the older Saroo, played by Dev Patel, is tortured by his memories, experiencing heartbreaking flashbacks of his mother lovingly teasing him as he brings her little treats whenever he can while she toils.
This film, which ends well, and with many tears on and off-screen, is anchored by the absolutely convincing, heart-rending performances of Priyanka Bose, Abhishek Bharate, and the pint sized, big hearted Sunny Pawar who vividly portrays the tightness of the family unit amidst a dreadful, cruel world – a unity that ultimately draws Saroo back, finding his little village of Ganasthaley (one of the few things he remembers), against all odds, aided, it must be said, by the existence of Google Earth.
Lion would be unbelievable if it hadn’t actually happened. Even so, watching the film, it is hard to really comprehend the odds that Saroo faced to find his family after twenty years, peering into satellite images from continents away, spurred by the light of his mother’s face and the remembered love in her eyes.