The story in the 2016 movie Lion, based on the non-fiction book A Long Way Home, with a screenplay by Luke Davies, is harrowing, even before the event that catapults the plot. Saroo (the amazing young Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhisek Bharate) sneak onto trains, steal coal, then jump off the moving transport to exchange it for milk. Their mother Kamla, (Priyanka Bose) does menial tasks as well.
The boys arrive at a train station to look for recoverable items. Saroo loses track of his brother, and boards a train which departs the station. Saroo cannot get off until he arrives in Calcutta, hundreds of miles away, where almost everyone speaks Bengali, but he does not. Saroo somehow survives on the streets until he ends up in an orphanage.
He gets adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham), who lives in Tasmania, and a year later they adopt another boy, Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav).
Twenty years later, Saroo (Dev Patel) heads to Melbourne and meets some new friends – Saroo Lucy (Rooney Mara), Prama (Pallavi Sharda), Bharat (Sachin Joab), Sami (Arka Das), and Annika (Emilie Cocquerel). “As they dine on Indian food, Saroo heads into the kitchen and observes things that cause him to reminisce about his childhood. He confides in his friends that he was adopted and Prama advises Saroo to use Google Earth to search for his hometown.”
All of this is rather well documented in the trailer, or in the description of the book, so it is in the TELLING of the story that makes the movie work. And it does. It’s a feel-good story about a most improbable journey of Saroo Brierley’s real life.
Yet I was far more engaged in the first, harrowing, half of the tale, than the somewhat overwrought second act. Maybe it’s that it’s inherently more interesting. There’s a lot less dialogue early on, and that works in the film’s favor. The director, Garth Davis in his feature debut, used the animated film WALL-E as part of his template.
Still, the last pictures on the screen are real tearjerkers, well earned, and I’m glad to have seen it. Incidentally, the title of the film does not show up in the opening credits, only at the end, when it is explained.
Of course, the Wife and I saw Lion at the Spectrum in Albany, because that’s just what we do in January.