Lion movie review: Dev Patel is appalling, but it is Sunny Pawar who ablazes this prosaic adaptation

Garth Davis’ feature debut Lion is an extraordinary true story of Saroo Brierley who got lost on a train and found his family 25 years later with the help of Google Earth

Garth Davis’ feature debut Lion is an extraordinary true story of Saroo Brierley who got lost on a train which took him nine hundred miles away from home. He was born to a desperately poor family in Khandwa and often accompanied his elder brother Guddu for work who earned money begging on the local trains. But one fateful night in 1986, when he was just five-year-old he got separated from his brother and wounded up a beggar on the streets of Calcutta. He eventually found his way to a government-aided detention house for lost children and was adopted by a Tasmanian couple, Sue and John Brierley.

Twenty-five years later, while he is still haunted by the memories of his sordid past and lost in myriad thoughts of home and identity, Saroo learns of an enticing possibility to return to his roots with the arrival of a new technology, Google Earth. With a bleak remembrance of a water tank, a bridge and a locality named Gilenstlay, he spends years retracing his Amee on the desktop screen and a map tacked on the wall of his bedroom.   

Lion is a beautiful, uplifting tale of resilience and determination which has been incredibly adapted by first-time director Garth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies. But, this does not mean it is not free from flaws. The film is artful and lachrymose, often conniving the viewers to the director’s doctrine. The first half of the film is tear jerking which immediately seizes the emotions of the audience by reimagining a 1986 India, without new media or a volant cellular internet where people often lost track. Little Sunny Pawar is brilliant in his portrayal of a young Saroo. He is vulnerable and yet smart. He is Dickensian and yet very much like Yann Martel’s Piscine Molitor — buoyant and vivacious. Cinematographer Greig Fraser fabricates ‘a hero on expedition’ with his panoramic and overhead shots which settle accurately at Sunny’s eye level. We are in awe of him, we vie for him and we are enchanted by his simplicity.

The film takes a twenty year leap and what happens here is strange. The transition of Saroo, now played by Dev Patel is unsatisfying. Davis fails to explain the complexities of a growing up Saroo, where he finds himself in a complete alien land in Australia at Brierley’s home. There are no attempts to draw a rustic sketch of his new life and how he adapts to it and thus no leeway for character maturity. While he is an adorable, simple boy in the former half, he is a distant, complicated man in the latter. We already know what his predicament is and it is only Patel’s conflicted portrayal of a lost inamorato, assisted by the enigmatic bawls of Hauschka and Dustin O’Halloran which inundate the viewers with glut of impressions.

Priyanka Bose as Amee and Abhishek Bharate as Guddu play their parts well while Nicole Kidman (who looks way more dull than she is), David Wenham and Rooney Mara–who plays Saroo’s Indian cuisine loving girlfriend–are just decent.

It is the humane nuances in the film which connect the most to the viewers in a story which shifts its focus to the acclamations of Google Earth.