A look at Lion (PG)…
CAN you imagine what it would be like to embark on a search for your family from whom you were separated as a five-year-old?
Well, that’s the central premise in Garth Davis’ film when little Saroo from central India is separated from his teenaged brother on a train platform.
It’s in a country where the population is nudging 1.3 billion souls and it’s only when he’s old enough to start a search that Saroo embarks on his mission, aided by Google Earth.
The other imponderable is that Saroo is now in another country altogether. It’s Australia and Tasmanian capital, Hobart, in particular.
Davis (from ABC-TV drama Top Of The Lake) sets up his film – adapted from Saroo Brierley’s 2014 memoir A Long Way Home – in three parts.
I found the first part of the three the most engaging. We follow Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his brother Guddu (Abhisek Bharate) from pilfering coal atop a slow-moving Indian freight train to delivering a ripe mango to his illiterate mother who works in a quarry carrying stones.
He’s well-loved by Mum (Priyanka Bose) but they live in a tiny shack where food – and money – is in short supply.
It’s when Saroo accompanies Guddu to a nearby city to find more stuff for sale that his problems begin. The little boy’s exhausted and lies down to sleep on a train platform bench.
When he awakes Guddu is nowhere to be seen so he starts a second search on a nearby train.
Again he sleeps but by the time he wakes in the locked, empty compartment the train’s well on its way to Calcutta, 1600 km away.
It’s here where he has to evade all sorts of danger: first of all from predators who scout around train stations to kidnap rough, child sleepers and then from a woman who appears kind but is really a pimp for active paedophiles.
The third place of danger and most unlikely of all is the orphanage where police officers – unable to ascertain his city of origin– place Saroo.
Guards and wardens prey on the children ostensibly in their care.
The second section of the tale comes with Saroo’s adoption by a Tasmanian couple: Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham)
The Calcutta adoption agency official teaches the soon-to-be-adopted children how to handle table utensils, their names and the names of the condiments which accompany their meals.
Apart from Saroo’s family, she’s just about the nicest Indian we come across in the first part of Davis’ story.
So away goes the Indian boy to Australia where he lives with the Brierley family in a comfortable Hobart home with views across the Derwent.
We assume he completes school and the teenage years quite well because it’s when he’s a young man, played by Dev Patel, that the desire to search for his family begins to kick in.
He’s on a hotel management training course in Melbourne where he meets American Lucy (Rooney Mara) and admits to her he has a burning desire to seek out his birth family.
We know he’s fair dinkum because there’s a massive map on his living room wall with a multitude of pins plotting where he might have come from.
There’s occasional scenes at home with the Brierleys and their second adopted Indian son, troubled druggie Mantesh, yet Saroo doesn’t discuss his yearnings with the Hobart couple.
Lucy cottons on to Saroo’s desire to locate his home town and thence his family. Mara plays her part with the sort of empathy and insight we’ve come to expect from her.
As an example think of her part as Cate Blanchett’s lover in Carol.
And so Davis takes us on Part 3 of the story, the journey back to central India.
It plays out very much as all of us in the audience would expect: the plane trip back to India, the location of the town, the trek through the dusty little lanes to the shack (now inhabited by a goat) and then guided by an English-speaking middle-aged Indian Saroo gets to the tearful middle-of-the-street reunion with mother and sister.
And we find out that all along little Saroo has been mis- pronouncing his name.
It’s not Saroo but Sheru: Hindi for ‘lion’.
Good luck to Nicole Kidman, nominated for a 2017 Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Sue Brierley. She’s got to be in with some sort of a chance.
Having said that I think I’m a bit over Dev Patel, notwithstanding his pretty handy Aussie accent in Lion.
After Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (just the one for me, not version 2) and The Man Who Knew Infinity four takes of Dev will do me for now.