While most people might get the back to work blues at this time of year, I’m excited as a kid at Christmas as the motion picture awards season gets into full swing. One of this year’s Oscar™ contenders is the film Lion, based on true events, and beautifully crafted by Australian director Garth Davis. The film revolves around Saroo, a young Indian boy living in a village near the city of Khandwa, who, due to a tragic turn of events, becomes separated from his family, transported thousands of kilometres only to become lost in the vast, and often grim, cityscape that is Calcutta. Saroo’s journey takes him all the way to Australia where he is raised by adoptive parents Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham). Fast forward twenty years, and Saroo is now a young man living in Melbourne (played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame) grappling with a childhood that incessantly haunts him and caught in the midst of a conflicted identity crisis.
The fact that the story is based on true events makes it all the more powerful, and Davis has handled it superbly. From the breathtaking cinematography to the haunting soundtrack and the exceptional acting performances, Lion delivers on every count.
Dev Patel is impressive as Saroo, executing one of his finest performances to date. His Saroo is gentle, endearing, yet increasingly tortured as he becomes obsessive in his plight to reconnect with his past. Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo is a revelation, capturing both a heart-wrenching vulnerability and an innocence of youth that has the audience gasping at the horrifying turn of events that his character must endure. Nicole Kidman often divides audiences, and I too was sceptical of her in this role, yet her performance was powerful, subtly navigating the complexities of being an adoptive mother determined to provide a better life for her children.
There has been some contention within the local industry about the use of overseas actors, such as Patel and Rooney Mara (as Saroo’s love interest), in roles that could have showcased Australian talent. I would argue, however, that these actors broaden the film’s appeal and anything that exposes this story to a wider audience is completely worth it. The more people that see this film, the better.
Lion is without a doubt one of the most moving, haunting and exquisitely-made films I have seen in a long time. It is almost like a love letter to India, capturing the culture and colours of a vibrant country and its people, but also not shying away from the devastating realities of life in poverty. The film’s characters will warm your heart, and you’ll be left with an affirmation of the power of the human spirit. An absolute must-see and Kleenex is mandatory.
Reviewed by Rachel Gould