Saturday, 25 March 2017

Film Review: Lion

Several years ago I happened upon an article on BBC News about a guy called Saroo Brierley. It was an interesting story and obviously it lodged itself in the back of my brain because a few years later when I read the description of a film staring Dev Patel I thought 'that sounds familiar'.

That's because it's a film based on the book written by Saroo about the events briefly described in the BBC article I'd read so many years before.

Warning this review contains spoilers!

Don't say I didn't warn you!

At the age of five, Saroo was left at a train station to sleep by his older brother, Guddu, who had taken the child with him to find work. Waking alone Saroo boarded a train which took him on a two day journey, alone, over 1,000 km away to Kolkata. After surviving for a time on the streets he was picked up and taken to an orphanage but unable to tell anyone where he came from or even his mother's name there was little hope of him ever reuniting with his biological family. Eventually he was adopted, finding a home with Sue and John Brierley in Australia.

However, he never forgot where he came from and clinging on to some distance memories he managed to use Google Earth to retrace his journey on the train and find his way home.

This film was everything I hoped it would be and more. It's beautifully shot, both in India and Australia, so at times you feel like you're watching carefully framed photographs. There's also some very clever filming where the aerial views of Google Earth are replicated as flyover shots of the scenery in both countries. This is how the film opens.

As I sat in the cinema beside Mr Click, I couldn't help but feel a little unsure of whether he was going to enjoy the film, especially as almost the whole first hour of the film is subtitled. I'm glad that they did this, rather than just having everyone speak English.

Saroo, at age five, speaks Hindi so when he arrived in Kolkata he can't communicate with the people around him. It's a busy city with street children not being an uncommon sight, so a dirty five year old is ignored by most of the adults who come across him. It's heart breaking to watch and little Sunny Pawar who plays young Saroo does a brilliant job.

When he is eventually picked up there's little he can tell the police about where he came from. The place he lived 'Gineshtalay' is unknown to them; he can't even tell them where in India it is, and when he's asked his mother's name he simply replies 'mum'.

It's a film of two halves. There's young Saroo's life in India. The horrors he witnesses on the streets and in the orphanage, juxtaposed against the happy memories of home. Despite money and food being scarce with his biological family, you get a sense of how much his mother cares for her children and how much they care not only for her, but for each other too.

Then there's Saroo's time in Australia, as a young man, when a chance get together with some friends at university reminds him of his childhood and he opens up about his past. Someone suggests how he might go about working out where he came from.

It something that he starts off by just dipping into, but gradually it comes to consume him. Meanwhile we get glimpses into how this affects his adoptive family and his relationship with girlfriend, Lucy. There's also Saroo's adoptive brother, Mantosh, who was adopted from India also and bears the emotional and psychological scars of his life before his adoption. The two have a strained relationship and it's partially this that stops him from pursuing his search, not wanting to cause his mother any more heartache.

I love Dev Patel in pretty much anything I see him in, and I think he does a brilliant job here. He's playing a guy who is torn between the loyalty he feels to the people who have loved and raised him, and his memories of his birth family and the emotions they must feel never knowing what has happened to him. You get that sense right the way through the film.

If you've read any of the articles about Saroo Brierley (or the book he published, A Long Way Home) then you know how the film is going to end. Saroo manages to hit on the spot on Google Earth which is familiar to him, a water tower from the train station he was left at by his brother. A short scroll away is a place called 'Ganesh Talai', the place he knew he came from, he just couldn't say it well enough at the age of five for anyone to understand.

And it's from about here that you really need the tissues.

If little Saroo running up and down a train, by himself, with no way off, didn't move you, I'm sure the next bit will. After an emotional conversation with his mum, Sue, about what he's been doing, she gives him her blessing to go and find his birth mother.

And that's exactly what he does, heading off to India and retracing his steps. You can't help but feel the surge of joy as he is reunited with his mother, to the happy cheers of her friends and neighbours.

It's bittersweet though.

His mother, Kamla, breaks the news to him that his brother, Guddu, died on the night he went missing. She lost two of her sons in one day, but never having retrieved Saroo's body, she never gave up hope that he would come home.

And the title of the film?

I wondered about that the whole way through. It turns out that not only had Saroo struggled to say the name of his birthplace, he was mispronouncing his own name. Saroo was a nickname for Sheru, meaning 'lion'.

Having seen the film, I know it's one we're going to get on DVD and we're going to watch it again. It's a good film to see when you need a little reminder about the harsh realities for people growing up and living in other places around the world. There filmmakers have actually set up a charity, which you can learn more about here, to help those children living on the streets of India. But it's got that (mostly) happy ending which will make you cry but in a good way.

It's got me curious as well. I spend this morning Googling Saroo Brierley and reading Wikipedia. I'm definitely going to get my hands on a copy of A Long Way Home to hear more about his amazing story and the women who raised him.


  1. Well wrtten review. I wondered about this. And spoilers don't bother me. Thanks!

    1. Thank you. I'd definitely recommend it. :-)

  2. P.S. I am following!

  3. Replies
    1. It's well worth watching. I think more so because it actually involved real people.

  4. This is not a movie I would normally watch, but your description made it sound very interesting. I think I will have to watch it!

    1. It's definitely worth checking out. I think if it was just a regular film I'd say it wasn't believable, but knowing it's about something that actually happened just makes it incredible. :-)

  5. I'm actually happy for spoilers--My stomach gets too tied up with anxiety not knowing if everything is going to turn out okay or not! thanks for visiting me ----------

    Gail Park

    Making Life an Art

    1. Thank you. Glad you liked the review. Even though I knew how it was going to end from reading the news articles, I was anxious how it would turn out as I was watching it all the same. ;-)

  6. Great review! Got me hooked!


    Gail Park

    Making Life an Art

  7. I've heard nothing but great things about this one and am looking forward to seeing it!


Let me know what you think. :-)