By Phillip Guy Ellis (Northampton, England)
Star – Dev Patel
Genre – Drama
Run Time – 1 hr 58 minutes
Certificate – PG13
Country – U.S.A
Oscars – 6 nominations
Awards – 48 Wins & 79 Nominations
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So, after the massive success of Slumdog Millionaire back in 2009 (was it really that long ago??) and its record breaking Oscar haul for a part foreign language film, Dev Patel returns in another Indian/English language hybrid drama to try and cash in on that appetite for Bollywood meeting Hollywood, a potentially huge multiplex audience. It didn’t quite work out that way as it didn’t have the ambition of Danny Boyle’s film but for its £12 million Film Australia budget it did a healthy $147 million U.S back. Nicole Kidman jumped on board with that Aussie backing and solid premise and it would receive 6 Oscar nominations.
At the Australian box office, it had the biggest ever opening weekend for an Australian independent film. Among all Australian films, it had the fifth highest opening of all time. Somewhat controversially the 8-year-old Indian star, Sunny Pawar, was originally unable to attend the US premiere because he was denied a visa by Donald Trump – clearly a terrorist threat. Producers of the film made an appeal to Homeland Security, after which Pawar and his father were allowed to come to the US. Some 4000 Indian boys were auditioned to play the young hero.
• Sunny Pawar as young Saroo Brierley
• Dev Patel as adult Saroo Brierley
• Rooney Mara as Lucy, Saroo’s girlfriend
• Nicole Kidman as Sue Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive mother
• David Wenham as John Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive father
• Abhishek Bharate as Guddu Khan, Saroo’s biological brother
• Divian Ladwa as Mantosh Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive brother
• Keshav Jadhav as Young Mantosh
• Priyanka Bose as Kamla Munshi, Saroo’s biological mother
• Deepti Naval as Saroj Sood
• Tannishtha Chatterjee as Noor
• Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Rama
Saroo (Sunny Pawar), an innocent and very sweet five-year-old boy, lives with his elder and more mischievous brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), his mother (Priyanka Bose) and his younger sister Noora (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) in the small village of Khandwa, India. Guddu and Saroo pinch coal from freight trains to trade for milk and food to help mother out, who does back breaking work all day to bring them up.
One day, Saroo follows his brother to a job and they arrive at a train station down the line, where Saroo decides to stay back and take a kip on a bench as Guddu tells him not to leave the bench until he returns and he will get the coal. When Saroo awakes it’s nighttime, cool and quiet, soon frantically searching for Guddu. He falls asleep again, this time in a train compartment and wakes up to find the train has been on the move for a while.
After several days of failing to get off it, it arrives in the heaving metropolis of Calcutta, where he does not understand the local Bengali language. Confused in the masses of people, he begs at a kiosk for a ticket home, but the attendant does not recognize the name of his village. He then spends a scary night in the station with some street children, forced to run when a group of men try to kidnap them.
A confused and scared Saroo continues to wander around the city before coming across Noor (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a seemingly friendly woman who brings him back to her pleasant apartment. She tells Saroo that a man named Rama (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) will help him find his way home). Saroo runs away, sensing danger, a wise move.
After two months of living near the Howrah Bridge as one of 8000 plus children living rough in the city, Saroo is rounded up by the cops. Unable to trace his family, they put him in an orphanage. Three months later, Saroo is introduced to Mrs. Sood (Deepti Naval), who breaks the bad news that, despite placing an advertisement about him in several local newspapers, no one has responded to help him find home.
Mrs Sood later tells him that an Australian couple is interested in adopting him. She begins to teach Saroo English and he moves to Hobart, Tasmania in 1987, under the care of Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), where he slowly starts to settle into the new world. And a year later, they adopt another boy, Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav), who has major problems adjusting and suffers from rage and self-harm.
So twenty years later and Saroo (Dev Patel) is very handsome and all grown up and has moved to Melbourne to study hotel management at uni. He is quickly in a relationship with Lucy (Rooney Mara), a pretty American student. During a meal with some Indian friends at their home, he comes across jalebi, a delicacy he remembers from his childhood. It sparks intense memories of his childhood and he confides that he is adopted, and his friends suggest he use Google Earth to search for his hometown in India that he has no idea where it is. And so Saroo begins his quest, his emotions stirring on just how selfish he has been not searching for his family, knowing his biological mother does not know if he is even alive all these years…
So, after the success of Slumdog, which I loved, I was looking forward to this. Dev Patel is a likable actor and you want him to succeed in his films and career. But it was just not to be here for me and all rather bland and dragging until the final emotional packed scenes and unexpected twist. It was based on a true story and so extra appeal there but the film is really the ending and everything else is exaggerated and flabby to make a movie out of the tale. The made up love affair with the American girl is trying to turn this into a romance to draw another audience into flavor the curry, if you like, and Dev Patel doesn’t appear in the movie until 56 minutes and so little Saroo the star if the truth be told. It’s almost like the awards ceremonies wanted it to win because of its Indian connection and so fly-posted it with nominations rather too early but when they actually watched it they, to, were underwhelmed. It’s definitely one of those films that had the potential to be another heart string pulling Slumdog classic but the fact its 15 major film festival nominations won just twice, and those were bias BAFTA gongs, tells its own story. It’s just not that film and lacks Oscar magic.
Nicole Kidman is Oscar chasing here with a quivering lip hammy performance although does add an extra dimension to what is at times a rather two dimensional wobbly headed Indian tale of poverty and loss. It’s a breeze for Dev Patel playing the westernized Indian…now the Monty Panesar of Hollywood.
It’s just didn’t ever get going for me with its mishmash of themes around motherhood guilt, western romance and Saroo’s journey to his past and so all rather slow. Surely he would have tried to look for mom online long before his 21st birthday? I get that we never knew where he came from as he was too young to explain at the time but it just feels like too much is being stretched out from a sad story of a little Indian boy that goes missing from thousands and thousands of little Indian boys. It’s almost patronizing. Let’s talk about the ten million Indian girls killed before birth as the family wanted a boy. How do we know the orphanage even looked for his mom and may simply wanted to flog him abroad to some Australians like the rest of them for orphanage donations? We know Australia has a terrible history of this and the abuse that took place in the Catholic Church in the Outback. That’s the real Indian story that should be told.
IMDb.com – 8.1/10.0 (7.234votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 86% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 69% critic’s approval
Little White Lies – ‘Robustly made, but very little to gnaw on’.
Empire Magazine – ‘An astonishing true story that’s treated with an admirably light and artistic touch, rather than an overly dramatic heavy hand’.
NZ Herald – ‘Lion is a beautiful and moving film made all the more compelling because it is a true story … make sure to bring your tissues’.
The Mail – ‘What it does , quite beautifully, is make a case for a common – and borderless – humanity. The strength and love that uphold families is palpable and powerful. Be sure and stay for the credits and have a hanky ready’.
Independent – ‘The film is moving enough in its own terms but lacks the depth and complexity that might have been expected’.