Lion is one of those movies which is based on a true story so incredible, you just have to watch it to see for yourself how it all pans out. Even though you know how out ultimately ends (that’s if you’ve been watching the extensive media coverage and interviews with the man whose story this is based on). You know it’s going to have a highly emotional and happy ending along with an intense beginning and build up, and on that score the movie truly delivers.
Most of us as a child will have experienced that moment of panic when momentarily losing your parents in a crowd. And as a parent yourself you may have experienced that feeling too – losing sight of your child, for even the shortest period of time, as a million different agonising thoughts and scenarios flash through your mind. This story begins with a child becoming so lost, in a place already full of lost children and poverty, and then follows his journey over the next 20 or so years as he tries to find his way home. Despite not knowing where home actually is.
Saroo lives with his family in Khandwa, India. They live in poverty, with no father, and his mother lifting rocks in order to bring in a little bit of money. Saroo spends a lot of his time shadowing older brother Guddu, begging and selling coal that they steal from trains and helping to look after their younger sister while their mother is out working. One evening Guddu says that he is going to go by train to look for some work and Saroo begs to come with him. Saroo falls asleep on the train and when they get to their destination, Guddu tells him to wait and rest on the platform bench while he goes to check for any work. He tells him that he’ll be back for him soon. Saroo drifts off to sleep again and when he wakes, the platform is deserted and there is no sign of Guddu anywhere, or anyone else for that matter. Saroo boards the empty, out of service train on the platform to look for his brother and eventually falls asleep again. When he wakes once more, the train is moving and is still out of service, so doesn’t stop at any platforms. It continues for nearly 2 days before eventually stopping at a busy station where Saroo is able to get off. But the people here mainly speak Bengali while Saroo speaks Hindu, making his situation even worse. Not to mention the fact that what he remembers the name of his home town to be, isn’t actually a town anywhere in India!
This first third of the movie is pretty harrowing and intense. Entirely spoken in the native Indian language and dialects, with subtitles for us to follow, only adds to the realism as we follow Saroo, struggling to be heard and noticed in a place where homeless poor children are commonplace. He narrowly avoids being snatched along with some other homeless children trying to sleep in a subway near the station, and it becomes clear that even the seemingly nicest of people may not be as trustworthy as they first seem. He eventually ends up in a government centre for abandoned children, but because he doesn’t know enough about where he came from to be able to trace his family, he ends up in an adoption centre. He is later adopted by an Australian family and travels to live with them in Tasmania.
The movie moves ahead 20 years where Saroo, now an adult (and played by Dev Patel), is happy and planning to move to Melbourne to study hotel management. In Melbourne, he makes friends, and strikes up a romance, until one day something triggers off a powerful memory from his childhood in India. He tells his friends where he is from and how he came to be in Australia and they tell him about an amazing new app called Google Earth (we’re in 2008) and if he was able to work out the average train speed then he might be able to work out a radius from the point he departed the train and then look for clues using Google Earth. Saroo initially dismisses it, but further memories return to him and he decides to pursue the idea.
The next chunk of the movie begins to drag after a while. The search for his home and family consumes Saroo and he begins to neglect his studies, his friends, his girlfriend and his family as he drifts between retracing his steps as a child in his mind, imagining his brother and mother, and scouring Google Earth for any landmarks he might recognise. All of this happens repeatedly, and while it may all be true and part of the story, it doesn’t play out so well in the movie when you compare it to the earlier scenes and those which are yet to come. Eventually, while at a particularly low point and in the middle of some random half-hearted Google Earth clicking, Saroo clicks on a point just outside the map radius he’d drawn and recognises something. He begins tracing back from there and recognises even more – train stations, the rock formation where his mother worked, and eventually his hometown.
The movie changes gear again at that point as Saroo, with the blessing of his adopted mother, heads off in search of his real mother. Will she still be there after all this time? Will his brother be there too? We follow Saroo as he retraces steps taken over 20 years ago in order to find out, and it’s an emotional ride.
Aside from the drag in second half, this is an enjoyable movie with some great performances from young and old Saroo, not to mention his adoptive mother played by Nicole Kidman. I cried… my wife cried… my daughter cried!