After The Light Between Oceans emerged as an undisputed tearjerker in Venice, Lion has trounced it out of the ballpark with a finale that elicited audience sobbing in a manner rarely seen. If the real-life Saroo Brierley and the astounding Sunny Pawar, who played his five year-old self, had been in front of the Toronto crowd at the world premiere, the emotional response would have been torrential.
The charismatic Brierley currently works internationally as a motivational speaker, while also working in the family’s business in Hobart. The cute-as-a-button Sunny, who came from poverty, is now appearing with his onscreen brother Abhishek Bharate alongside Demi Moore in Love Sonia, produced via the same Indian company as the initial section of Lion.
“These kids are so resilient, so spirited and really easy to work with,” says director Garth Davis (Top of The Lake) who here makes his feature film debut. “They see life in an amazing way. I get all my energy from my actors and working with these kids every day was just an inspiration.”
Jane Schoettle, TIFF's selector of antipodean films, described Lion as “a mythic fable and a reunification with the lost mother” even if the production, which was scripted by Luke Davies (Candy, Life), is based on Brierley's autobiographical novel, "A Long Way Home".
Indeed the tears truly began to flow as audiences watched Brierley, played by Dev Patel, finally re-connect with his mother after working out her location using Google Earth 25 years after he had been lost on a train in India. The final images from 60 Minutes of the real-life Brierley and his adoptive mother Sue meeting his real mother in India are priceless.
Sue Brierley was hugely supportive of Nicole Kidman playing her in the film knowing that the Australian star has two adopted children of her own (from her relationship with Tom Cruise). Brierley and her husband John (played by David Wenham) held the strong belief that they should adopt children in need rather than have their own.
"For me this is about the powers of mothers. I said to Saroo, ‘You have two mothers. Lucky boy!’ This was very emotional for me, obviously."
“I read the script and responded viscerally,” Kidman recalls. “Garth said, ‘You know you look a bit like Sue!’ And I said, ‘I do?’ And he said, ‘Remember your red curly hair when you were like 14?’” Kidman chortles at the memory, while Davis jokes how he wanted to bring back BMX Bandits.
“I told Garth it would be an absolute honour to play Sue. I just love what she stands for and who she is and hopefully she will speak out over the next few months as the film is being released. She really is a beautiful person and had unconditional love for her two boys and still has. They’re an extraordinary family.
“Of course I reacted to being the mother of adopted children but for me this is about the powers of mothers. I said to Saroo, ‘You have two mothers. Lucky boy!’ This was very emotional for me, obviously.”
Sunday 26 January, 7.30pm on SBS World Movies
Now streaming at SBS On Demand
Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham
What's it about?
A five-year-old Indian boy 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.