One of the most moving films of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival was “Lion,” now in commercial release, a saga tracing an extraordinary geographical and emotional journey. Directed by Garth Davis, the dramatic film was written by Luke Davies based on “A Long Way Home,” the personal story written by Saroo Brierly about what he experienced.
The early scenes are rooted in poverty in India, where five-year-old Saroo Khan is trying to help his older brother Guddu earn money in their densely populated area. They become inadvertently separated, and Saroo, in trying to find Guddu gets irrevocably lost and a train takes him to Calcutta, almost 1000 miles away from his village. Sunny Pawar as Saroo wins our hearts with a performance that puts us solidly in his corner as he goes through his traumatic experience with a mix of bewilderment and courage.
Saroo, who speaks Hindi, is doubly lost in Calcutta, where the language is Bengali. He does not know how to identify where he comes from, and becomes a street urchin subjected to a series of dangers, but gets by with his survival instincts. When found by a sympathetic stranger, he winds up being given shelter in an orphanage, and that leads to his adoption by a kindly Australian couple, the woman played by Nicole Kidman, the man by David Wenham, and off Saroo goes to his new home In Hobart, Tasmania.
Life works out well for him, and as an adult he is played by Dev Patel, whom we also can get to like. But the childhood memories linger, and as well situated as Saroo is, there comes a point 25 years after his adoption when he longs to trace his roots and find his birth mother, as well as other members of his family. This isn’t easy, as he tries via Google Earth to pinpoint the area where he might have come from.
The search is on—it continues a bit too long--but there finally is fresh excitement as Saroo homes in on the part of India where he was born, which he visits, tracing the path to his family. The reunion that ultimately follows is deeply emotional, for Saroo and his mother, as well as for the audience. As a postscript we see footage of the real people involved. That adds a note of reality that strengthens all that went before, enabling us to take pleasure in accepting Saroo’s saga as the real thing. A Weinstein Company release. Reviewed November 25, 2016.