Monday, April 24, 2017

DVD: Lion

Lion brings to the big screen, the remarkable story of Saroo Brierley who was lost at age five, adopted by an Australian couple and who as an adult eventually located his family in India. This beautiful film, directed by Garth Davis

In 1987, Saroo whose real name was Sheru Munshi Khan, was allowed to accompany his fourteen year old brother Guddu to beg for food. Sheru lived in Ganesh Tali with his mother and his brothers and sisters. Their father had abandoned the family and they were very poor, so the boys often begged for food.

On that fateful day, Guddu and Saroo took the train from Khandwa station to Burhanpur. While Guddu went to look for food, Saroo slept on a bench. When he woke up, Guddu was no where to be found. Thinking he was on the train waiting in the station, Saroo boarded. However, the train was not in service and Saroo ended up travelling over 1500 miles to Calcutta. Lost, confused, and unable to speak the local dialect of Bengali, (Saroo spoke Hindi) he spent weeks on the streets before being taken to the Nava Jeevan orphanage by an older boy. The orphanage was run by Saroj Sood. Eventually, Saroo was adopted by a couple, John and Sue Brierley from Tasmania, Australia.

In Australia, Saroo quickly settled into his new life. He was raised in the Brierley's loving home with another Indian orphan, Manosh. However Saroo never forgot his brother nor his mother. In the movie, which is based on the book, A Long Way Home written by Saroo Brierley, when Saroo is in Melbourne studying hotel management, an Indian dinner with friends forces him to confront his past. He admits he was adopted and explains to his friends, including his girlfriend Lucy, what happened to him as a young child. They suggest that he try this new feature called Google Earth to try to locate his village.

Sunny Pawar as young Saroo
At first Saroo is dismissive of this suggestion but he soon begins his search. His time searching causes him great inner turmoil as he struggles to cope with the knowledge that his mother and his brother may still be searching for him and likely thinking of him each and every day. Using Google Earth and social media, Saroo is able to locate his village but will his family still be there? Saroo travels to India and is reunited with his family after twenty-five long years.

In Lion, a young Saroo is portrayed by Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate is his older brother Guddu and Dev Patel was cast as the adult Saroo Brierley. Nicole Kidman and David Wenham of Faramir fame from Lord of the Rings play Saroo's adoptive parents. Pawar is captivating in his performance, endearing himself to viewers as we watch this small, innocent boy struggle through his fears and loneliness to survive on the streets of Calcutta. To better portray the reality of young Saroo's situation the movie contains many scenes, shot overheard, showing the little boy in the contrasting, sweeping vistas that exist in India, and among crowded streets and dirty slums.The second half of the movie is devoted to a grown-up Saroo's struggle to locate his family in India based only on the vivid memories he retains from his childhood. His search began using the satellite images on Google Earth and over a period of months he finally located what he thought might be his family's village. Saroo could remember only that the nearest railway station began with the letter B and when he found Burhanpur station he begins to recognize features on the satellite images. Davis does a great job of showing us the images Saroo would have viewed and the map he created as he worked his way through eliminating possible villages. These are juxtaposed with images Saroo remembers from his memories of what happened. His reunion with his mother is tender and emotional; Dev Patel and Priyanka Bose who portrays Kamla Munshi, probably capture only the barest essence of what this truly must have felt like.

Saroo with his family in India.
Davis says that he sees his film as having two parts; the first part portrays the outside journey Saroo experiences as he travels across India alone in a the train, then in search of his brother and his family and finally to Australia, the second part of the film portrays the inner journey of Saroo as he struggles to understand his past and find his family. Saroo has stated that he does not see himself as having two identities, but instead as having two families: one in India and one in Australia.

If you haven't seen Lion, go see it. It's a wonderfully realistic portrayal of one man's journey back home that feels honest.

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