Heartbreaking, if a little long at the tooth.
A five-year-old Indian boy (Sunny Pawar) gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
I was concerned that this film might stumble into Slumdog Millionaire territory, especially with Dev Patel at the helm. The opening established a similar premise; two brothers committing petty crimes to provide for their poverty stricken family.
However for the first hour, I was completely hooked. It was gruelling, gripping and shocking as Saroo travelled 1600km from home. Lost, confused and nowhere to go. You really felt for the little man. I didn’t realise that there were different dialects in India (Woe is me) with the Hindus struggling to understand Saroo’s Bengali.
Sunny Pawar delivered a stellar debut. I’m surprised he didn’t get a nod over Patel. Patel didn’t even appear until the hour marker!
It takes a lot for a child actor to catch your attention and make you empathise and root for them. Most of the time, kid actors just get on my nerves and overstay their welcome. Thankfully, Pawar did not fit into this category.
The film even raised awareness about the horrible living conditions that orphan children endure. Sleeping on the streets, raiding bins for scraps, fearing the police will arrest them or even worse that strangers will take them for their bidding. An unsettling encounter between Saroo and a ‘friendly’ man sent shivers.
I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy within the “adoption agency”. Beating children and forcing them to learn English. Lying to the poor boy, telling him that they couldn’t find his family. Devastating.
I was really invested in this amazing true story as Saroo moved to Australia. Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) were brilliant as his new adopted parents. Supporting him as he tried to make head or tail of the new situation.
A harrowing contrast was made when the Brierleys decided to adopt another child. Highlighting the true horrors of the agency as the psychologically scarred Mantosh failed to make the same transition as Saroo. Not every child as lucky to escape as you’d hope.
It was only when the film flicked forward 25 years later that the story lost momentum.
Award nominated turn? I wasn’t convinced BUT Patel still delivered a sterling turn.
It was nice to see Rooney Mara (Carol) play a normal role. I’m used to seeing her appear in some strange affairs. I felt she was a little underused. However, this wasn’t her story.
The pair had good chemistry and the film bumbled along at an easygoing pace as things seemed to be looking up for the fully grown Saroo. However, a relic from back home soon triggered old memories from his past. Ones he had forgotten.
The meandering middle act was my only niggle. It tested me.
You could empathise with Seru’s depression as he shut himself away from his friends and family. Living that guilt every day knowing his real brother and mother could still be looking for him.
The haunting nightmares, the visions of his brother’s face. BUT there was only so much Google Maps browsing and crazy dream sequences I could muster before I was screaming, “Get to India. Find them!”
I know he was trying to remember his village from repressed memories across a 1600 km landscape BUT the pace really was a killer.
I wanted more interaction with the family. There wasn’t enough Nicole Kidman for my liking. I loved the dynamic between Sue Brierley and Saroo over the years. That scene when she revealed the reasons for adopting him were heartbreaking. I wanted more of that closeness.
You really felt for her (and Mara’s character) as she tried to understand what Saroo was going through.
However, the ending was emotional and heart-rending as Saroo finally returned to India. The closing credits really hit home with real life footage.
The pace could have cut by a good 20 minutes BUT it was still a rewarding drama worth a watch.