‘Lion’ is a cinematic masterpiece, not so much for what director Garth Davis does, rather what he DOESN’T do.
Here, we have an unabashedly tear-jerker (if you’re a parent, you’ll especially be a mess by halftime), yet at no point does Davis and team pander or emotionally manipulate you to get there. In fact, the bulk of this film doesn’t even have a lot of dialogue…almost Charles Dickens-like at the core, this story, based on a remarkable real life incident, hits every note, be it scary, sad or triumphant…without ever TRYING to impress.
The tale begins in 1986, as a tiny boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar) boards a railway freight car and accidentally travels 1,600 miles from his small central Indian village to the bustling streets of Calcutta. There’s obvious pain in his loss – Saroo only wants to return home to his mother (Abhishek Bharate) and older brother (Guddu) – and, so small and intimidated by unfamiliar surroundings, a lot of fear. But, with wide eyes, there’s also a sense of adventure and discovery in his journey. And that’s part of the undeniable magic of ‘Lion’; how a film, even when it’s knee deep in hopelessness, can inspire.
The second part of the movie delivers shades of a fairy tale ending for Saroo, but it’s just a thin blanket of comfort covering up a sea of heartache and confusion for the young man. The story fast forwards two and a half decades, and Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) is the adopted son of an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman). Re-locating to Melbourne to study hotel management, he falls in love with a fellow student (Rooney Mara), but is still haunted by faint childhood memories.
When Saroo learns of Google Earth, his desire to retrace his accidental journey increases, to the point that it becomes an obsession; his insistence on tracking down his birth family causes Saroo’s “idyllic” lifestyle to crumble – with no guarantee he’ll find his mother OR the inner peace that he craves.
‘Lion’ gets, what I feel, is the one of the highest marks of praise that you could give a film; it’s an achievement. Gut-wrenching at times, the magic tricks that Davis and company do with your heart is something that has to be experienced, because words just don’t do it justice.