Will “Lion” be king for the Academy?

I vividly remember getting ‘lost’ as a child (albeit briefly). I was  4 years old at the time and had been put down to sleep in our hotel room alongside my brother after an exhausting long-haul flight. When I woke up, everyone had disappeared. I had been left alone and I felt an awful sense of panic. Where had everybody gone? What if they weren’t coming back for me?  I was in a foreign country and in unknown surroundings.

I left the hotel room and ran up and down the halls searching for them, screaming desperately for someone to “help me find my Mummy”.  A kind family tried to assist me in my search but I had no idea how to describe my parents and couldn’t calm down. I sobbed and sobbed until suddenly I saw my Mum running down the corridor. I leapt into her arms and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. The ordeal must have lasted only a few minutes, but that dreaded fear of being ‘lost’ has always stuck with me.

As I watched the recently 6 times Academy Award nominated “Lion” last night, those feelings came flooding back.

“Lion” is the true story of Saroo Brierly, a 5-year-old boy from India who, having been separated from his beloved eldest brother at a train station, finds himself alone and fending for himself in the large city of Calcutta (1,600km away from home having accidentally fallen asleep on a passenger train).

In his feature film debut, director Garth Davies does an excellent job in displaying young Saroo’s vulnerability in this chaotic city and young newcomer Sunny Pawer draws the audience in emotionally as the determined little boy, miles from home.

During the first act of this film, the audience are engrossed as we follow Saroo from the dangerous city to an orphanage and finally to Australia where he is adopted by a loving upper-middle-class couple, played by Nicole Kidman (particularly strong in her supporting role and nominated for an Oscar in this category) and David Wenham.

As time passes, young Saroo grows into a man, played by “Slumdog Millionaire”  star, Dev Patel. Patel (who spent 8 months prepping for his role by bulking up, visiting Indian orphanages and travelling the actual journey which young Saroo took from his hometown to Calcutta) carries the second act of the movie well and delivers a strong performance. He revisits his past and starts searching by creating mathematical distance maps and scouring Google Earth (great advertising for those guys!) to locate his birth mother and return to the home he accidentally abandoned 20 years previously.

As his search gains momentum, Saroo starts to feel a sense of guilt towards his adopted parents and his privileged upbringing in Australia. The character becomes withdrawn and isolated. Poignant moments between Patel and Kidman convey the depth of love and respect the pair hold for each other.

For me, the film’s pace slowed at times, particularly during scenes between Saroo and his girlfriend played by the wonderful Rooney Mara (who is somewhat wasted in this minor role) and the sub-plot of his relationship with troubled half-brother Mantosh required more attention and some of my questions remained unanswered here.

Ultimately “Lion” is a heart-warming tale of one man’s devotion to family and his plight to find his way back home against all odds. Through striking landscape shots soaring across Saroo’s journey across India, moving performances and an honest interpretation of a compelling story, “Lion” proves itself to be a strong awards contender and an uplifting cinematic experience.

Image result for lion movie dev patel

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