Lion, which stars Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman and the astonishing child actor named Sunny Pawar who plays five year old Saroo, gets only middling reviews. Based on a true story from the book written by the adult Saroo Brierley, A Long Way Home, Lion should, in my view, be seen with a less harsh critical eye. It’s an incredibly moving film. Saroo, older brother Guddu, and sister Shekila, live with their mother Kamla in a poor Indian village. Kamla earns a few rupees gathering rocks for local construction projects. The boys perilously hang on to freight trains to steal small bags of coal which they exchange for milk.
One day, at the train station, little Saroo is too sleepy to keep up with Guddu, who leaves him on a bench and tells him to wait and not go anywhere. Saroo falls asleep, awakening some hours later in the empty station with no sign of Guddu. Saroo gets on a train to look for his brother, and the train begins to move — carrying the little boy almost 1000 miles away to Kolkatta [formerly Calcutta]. Thus begins Saroo’s long odyssey to find home. Improbably, he survives for several weeks alone on the streets of this crowded and dangerous city. He eludes being sold, probably for sexual slavery. He winds up in a crowded orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple and moved to Tasmania.
Fast forward 25 years, and Saroo — who longs for home and for his birth mother — locates the tiny village on Google maps, goes there, and is reunited with family. Finding Kamla, of course, reminded me of finding Minga some 40+ years after I’d left Panama. Like many people around the world who live in small and forgotten places, neither woman had moved more than a few hundred yards from where she was last found.
You might say the story beggars belief, but it did happen — as the credits roll, you see the actual Saroo introducing his Australian mother Sue Brierley to Kamla in their Indian village.
Critics are right that the first half, with little Saroo showing both an aching vulnerability and a degree of street smarts that our American five year olds — including my grandson Archie — simply don’t have, is the more affecting. But the film in its entirety is crazy hopeful and moved me to tears.
Make it high on your list for this holiday season.