Saroo (Dev Patel) was born into poverty in India’s Khandwa district. He lived there with his single mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), and his younger sister, Shekila (Khushi Solanki).
His illiterate mother eked out a living by carrying rocks from a local quarry, and she could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads. So, when Guddu found a night job hauling bales of hay, Saroo begged to go with him to help, even though he was really too small for the job.
Saroo fell asleep after the long ride sitting on his brother’s bike’s handlebars to the worksite. “It’s my fault, for bringing him here,” Guddu lamented, before leaving Saroo alone for the night on a train station bench.
Unfortunately, when Guddu was nowhere to be seen when he woke up, the five-year-old forgot his brother’s instruction to stay put and went looking for him. While searching for food on a decommissioned train, the train’s doors locked and it started moving. After several days, Saroo ended up in Bengal, a city 1,600 miles away. When he got off the train, Saroo couldn’t get any help from the busy passers-by, because he did not speak the language spoken there, and he mispronounced the name of his hometown, “Ganestalay.”
He ended up struggling to survive on the streets, until he was taken in by a local orphanage. After some time Saroo, who didn’t know his last name, his mother’s name, or where he was from, was sent to Australia where Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), were eager to adopt him.
For the next 25 years, he grew up going to school, playing cricket, swimming in a cove off the ocean, and then falling in love with Lucy (Rooney Mara), an Australian. Then one fateful evening a childhood memory was triggered during a dinner of Indian food.
Compulsively curious about his roots, Saroo used his computer to search for his birthplace in India. Finally he realized that he had been mispronouncing the name of the area where he was born and found it on the computer. When he flew to India, he had a joyous reunion with his mother and younger sister, but sadly his brother Guddu had died.
Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s autobiography, A Long Way Home, Lion is a heartbreaking biopic with an emotional punch, thanks to powerful performances by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel as the young and adult Saroo, respectively. The supporting cast, led by Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, portrayed the women who had played pivotal roles in Saroo’s life.
Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and some sensuality. In English, Hindi, and Bengali with subtitles. Running time: 118 minutes.
Distributor: The Weinstein Company.