Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lion (2016)

I've seen eight best picture nominees now in the 2017 Oscars. La la Land, the 9th, will be the last. Even with one movie still out this one has risen to the top of my list.

Implicit in the title is the bravery and there was; but what makes this movie endearing is the tenderness hidden underneath. Lion actually is a story of love, the best kind that anyone will ever have in this life. 

Based on the book A Long Way Home, the story of a Lion is real one that started in the Indian city of Khandwa. Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) the oldest takes his little brother Saroo around. They were as close as any parent would want siblings to be especially since their mother, Kamla, is a single parent. Then again there were times he couldn’t get rid of him even if he tried. Saroo absolutely worships Guddu and the eldest was very protective of his second.

They went on missions together trying to get extra money such as sneaking into a running train carrying coal. Saroo’s family is among the millions of underprivileged in India.

On the fateful night when Saroo got lost they were on a mission again. It was just that the five year old was unused to working late into the night that Guddu decided to separate not wanting to waste time and make an extra buck. Alone in the train station where his older brother left him Saroo got tired of waiting and boarded the wrong train which headed 1600 kilometers away to Kolkata.

Young boy lost

In one of India’s largest cities he spent months in the slums, had near escapes from what seems to be pedophile rings until he was found by an orphanage. It was there he was adopted by an Australian couple and migrated to join them.

25 years is enough to make an Australian of Saroo, now Saroo Brierly, but did he ever forget?  One of the videos on Saroo’s website says that Sue Brierly, the adoptive mother, had decorated his room with a map of India. There was no pretense of even trying to forget. In the movie however remembering India was done of course with more drama and it is one of my favorite scenes.

Saroo in the second half of the film encountered jalebis for the first time since he was five years old. When I saw it I immediately remembered the theme of a piece once a teacher made me read more than 25 years ago. The point of the piece was that for those who have migrated they may change their language, their clothes, but the last thing to be forgotten, if ever, was food. There was something spiritual of that scene especially since memories of the brother were to haunt him thereafter.  As a five year old he would ask Guddu for jalebis.

The second half of the movie with Saroo grown up went to college, and fell in love was entirely in English but the first half for purposes of authenticity was entirely in Indian. Luke Davies, Lion’s screenwriter, said he had modeled the first half to Wall-E which visually worked like a silent film in the scenes without the big fat humans. Personally the first half hit me like Grave of the Fireflies with its inseparable older and a younger sibling down on their luck.

There are subtitles but it was not as stressful as I normally think subtitles to be; reading and seeing the visuals at the same time. The visuals were rich and to the point. Like Wall-E and Grave of the Fireflies even with its subtitles you just get it.

Sunny Pawar who played the young Saroo was cute, adorable, and convincing. I particularly loved the part when Saroo was carrying Guddu’s bike, arms shaking, eyes begging; just so to convince his brother he was big enough to work with him at night.

Sunny had enough in him to steal the scene from Dev Patel who played the grown up Saroo.  Actually the point of the scenes to show Dev internally being torn apart; images of him in Australia in deep thought often looking at a still infant Google Earth juxtaposed with Sunny running the streets back in Khandwa. The young boy which has slept for 25 years was or has always wanted to run back home.

Nicole Kidman played her role as Sue Brierley with quiet dignity. Mothers are not really that flashy just ever present. Hurt when the child hurt; happy when the child is too.  The best scene between them was when Sue narrates to Saroo a vision of a brown skinned boy holding her hand back when she was younger. That was what she did with her whole heart for real in Saroo and his adopted brother. There was a second Indian child that followed Saroo which looked to be one with special needs.  But mothers never really see that, both are children to be loved and raised equally, adopted though they are.

Priyanka Bose is Kamla, Saroo’s mother. Looking back I realized Saroo never called her by name.  How many five year olds do?  I remember having a cheat sheet at that age but then Kamla was illiterate (Kamala to other websites) so how could she teach. A Vanity Fair article says that in reality Saroo was reciting all the names of his family all the siblings including his mother. 

Perhaps it was for purposes of the movie Saroo could never recall her name. I think that made it even more urgent. A mother though nameless is someone you go back to especially because you know she’ll never forget you. When they reunited all Saroo could say was ami (which subtitle translates as mum). Actually mother is the only clear word that comes across yet that doesn’t reduce the significance of the reunion. Australia may have changed many things to this Indian boy but even with the words already gone Saroo did everything to find his mother.


Saroo Brierley in real life and the mother he has found again.
Image and story by The Saturday Paper

The reunion of Kamla and Saroo was a big emotional high. Seeing Kamla, a mother, smile hugging her son, almost displaying him as if to proclaim to the world he’s alive was worth it. I think that speaks highly of the filmmaker – Garth Davis as Director – to make such an effective connection from something so timeless and expected.

Lion ends at the railroad with a shot of Guddu and a young Saroo. It was sentimentally circular. Guddu takes his little brother places. Did he ever stop?

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