A journey to find the way back to the Home!
A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometres from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
Countries: Australia, UK
Languages: English, Hindi
Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama
Director: Garth Davis
Writer: Saroo Brierley (adapted from the book “A Long Way Home”), Luke Davies (screenplay)
Cast: Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Abhishek Bharate, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval
If any of you are wondering why we are reviewing an English film on Asian Retrospect, it is because this movie shows a lot of India (an Asian country), and India’s culture and society and other aspects as well as features Indian actors in it as well. So, if you haven’t seen it yet, do watch it ASAP! It comes highly recommended.
The 2016 Oscar-nominated film ‘Lion’ directed by the debutant director Garth Davis is an adaptation of the accredited novel ‘A Long Way Home’ by Saroo Brierley. The film stars several Indian as well as foreign actors.
The story begins in 1986 where a young boy called Saroo (5) and his elder brother Guddu steal coal from freight trains to exchange them for milk and food. One day, Saroo stubbornly insists on tagging along with Guddu to go where Guddu’s job site for a night shift but by the time they reach by train Saroo is in the sweet bosom of sleep and refuses to wake up. Guddu, despite several desperate attempts, could not get him to wake up so in a final call asks Saroo to sleep at the station and not budge till he returns.
Saroo wakes up after a while in the middle of the night and looks around to find the platform utterly deserted. Not even Guddu in sight. In an attempt to search for his elder brother he looks everyone and finally gets on a halted train to search inside. But, in the middle of his search, he ends up falling asleep again. The next time he wakes up the train is throttling full speed ahead and Saroo is trapped inside the train. He doesn’t know what to do and desperately screams for help but there is no one to hear his shouts.
The train travels for days on end while Saroo starves in the compartment to finally reach the hub of the bustling city of Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) where Saroo could not understand the local language – Bangla or Bengali. Desperate to reach home he asks everyone to take him home; to take him to ‘Gineshtley’ but no one knew about it. With no other choice, Saroo started spending his life on the streets, scavenging for food and constantly at risk of getting caught in the clutches of the human traffickers who kidnap children off the street to sell them into begging, child labour or prostitution. Fortunately, Saroo manages to escape these monsters not once but twice (probably more, but only 2 scenes were shown in the movie).
One day, a kind man finds Saroo and in an attempt to help him takes him to the local police station. The police ask various questions about Saroo’s house and family but the only answer Saroo is capable of giving is that he is from ‘Ginesthley’. The police being at a loss admit Saroo into the State-run Orphanage where after months of surviving and bleak existence a Mrs Sood comes as a messiah in his life. She tells Saroo that they tried to find Saroo’s parents by releasing adverts in the most widely-read newspaper but the results were nil. But, at the same time, Australian couple was enthusiastic to adopt Saroo. So with a nod of approval from Saroo’s side Mrs Sood took charge of Saroo’s education. Under her tutelage, Saroo learnt to speak certain words and phrases in English and also the certain mannerisms of the west. Finally, Saroo ends up in Hobart, Tasmania under the care of the lovely Sue and John Brierley. They eventually adopt another Indian child, Mantosh, who had a troubled childhood and deals with mental illnesses. However, not much is shown about Mantosh in the movie.
Under the care of Sue and John, Saroo grows up to be a brilliant student and kind person who eventually goes on to study Management in college. All this while Saroo, from the moment he stepped foot in his adoptive parents, seems to have locked away all his memories of his biological family and his time in India in the back of his mind. These memories burst through like opening a Pandora’s Box when he came across some Indian friends in his college and through them saw the India sweet jalebi for the first time since his childhood.
Saroo feels a sort of emptiness and feelings of guilt after these memories surface. He starts worrying about how his mother must have suffered searching for him day and night. How Guddu must have screamed himself hoarse while trying to find Saroo. He feels contrite over the fact that he is living in the laps of privilege and luxury while his mother is out there carrying rocks in order to eat even one decent meal a day. He slowly shuts off from society and dedicates his entire energy in order to trace his train journey when he was five years old. All based on Google maps, the internet and the memories of a five-year-old from over twenty years ago. His efforts finally come to fruition when by happenstance he spots the rock formation where his mother used to labour on google maps eventually leading to his village ‘Ganesh Talai’ (not ‘Ginesthley’) and also his home. He immediately informs his adoptive parents about this development and after receiving their full blessings hops on a plane to India.
After more than 25 years, he finally has a dramatic reunion with his birth mother and sister who always believed that her Saroo will come back one day and so she continued living in the same place. Unfortunately, his elder brother Guddu had passed away in a train accident the same day that Saroo got lost.
Finally, at the end of the movie, there are some snippets and photos of the real Sue, John, Saroo and Manosh Brierley. In fact, it turned out that Saroo had been pronouncing his name wrong his entire life. His actual name was ‘Sheru’ a derivative of ‘Sher’ meaning ‘Lion’. In the end, there is even a touching short video of the real Sue, Saroo and Saroo’s mother meeting together in Ganesh Thali.
Also, in the end, it is mentioned that this film collaborates with various organizations and NGOs to promote the safety of kids and stop kids from going missing from the streets as a mind-boggling 80,000 kids go missing in India every year (according to the movie). To find out more about this initiative you can visit www.lionmovie.com.
The movie is a lovely artwork of beautifully represented emotions and expressions. The character of Saroo and every other character are portrayed quite wonderfully; expressively but never over-the-top which draws the viewer further into the movie and gets them involved into the soul of the characters. Each character was, in my eyes, embodied and portrayed just right by all the actors. Even the child actors were fabulous, even does who appeared on-screen for just a few moments. Especially the young Saroo played by Sunny Pawar was phenomenal in his role and deserves are the praise for his acting.
The cinematography here was also exquisite. The scenes of Saroo’s flashbacks and also his journey where he uses his memories to recall all the details of his train ride from Ganesh Thali to Calcutta is depicted with such finery and artistic take that I honestly fell in love with it.
The movie also showed glimpses of the various social problems in regards to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, human trafficking, the state of government-run orphanages and more along with the lack of police or government action in such cases. Even though the scenes in this movie were from the 1980s, not much seems to have changed. The same problems are still haunting the Indian society and have probably magnified rather than reduced. In one of the scenes, a couple of street kids are sleeping in a subway in Calcutta when a couple of men come to kidnap them (most likely human traffickers) and even though a policeman sees them kidnapping the kids, he does nothing and calming looks on. The policeman was probably even in cahoots with the traffickers. Even in the state-run orphanage, the state of the institution is really bad and the kids, without a doubt, lack basic hygiene, education, food or even medical attention. It is truly a sad state of affairs.
A really touching and genuinely heart-warming scene for me was when Saroo comes across the group of kids who are homeless and sleep in the subway on flattened cardboard boxes, one of those kids offers Saroo a piece of cardboard to sleep on. Despite having nothing, those kids were willing to share whatever little they had. Sometimes it feels that the more material things a human gains, the more selfish the human becomes. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everybody because there are still good people around like Sue and John or the stranger in Calcutta who helped Saroo by taking him to the police. And as long as there is even one good soul in this world, I feel that we have hope. Sue and John despite being completely capable of have their own kids decided to forgo it and adopt kids as there were enough people in this world. It was a very brave and kind step on their part.
But, one thing that I found lacking in the film and a little upsetting was the lack of focus Mantosh. He was shown to have some sort of mental illness but no background was given about him and neither was the bond between Saroo and Mantosh shown. In many news articles, it has been mentioned that Saroo and Mantosh had a deep bond as they were growing up and even into adulthood. But in the movie, they only seemed to show the parts where the brothers were in conflict with each other. Except for one scene, there was no display of even the slightest brotherly affection between the two which could be quite misleading. According to some articles, the real Sue even commentated that the real Mantosh was quite upset after watching the movie but has also taken it in a good stride and started his counselling session anew and become more open. There was also no mention of Mantosh’s problems except in the beginning and he was simply shown as a problem child, living away from family and probably getting high. This misunderstanding-ridden portrayal of Mantosh upset me quite a lot.
Another important character in the movie was probably Saroo’s girlfriend Lucy seemed like a side character most of the time. I am pretty sure that she had a lot more importance in real life but in the movie, she seemed like just another girl in his life. There were a couple of moments where I genuinely felt that they were in love like when Lucy takes Saroo for a run but I think that was it. I really hoped throughout the movie that something more would be shown of their relationship but nothing really happened. This was a bummer for me.
Overall, this is a wonderful film which can be enjoyed by almost anyone and is a combination of brilliant acting, artistic cinematography, praiseworthy script writing (because gotta admit, it is difficult to adopt a story based on memories so well into a full-length film) and beautiful expression of feelings and emotions.
Have you seen ‘Lion’? If yes, what do you think about this movie? If not, does it sound interesting to you? Comment below!