Review: “Lion” – the film. The real India? 7/10

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

Saroo, a tiny boy, arrives confused, in Calcutta.  He does not speak Bengali and has no family or friends or idea where he is.

Lion is his story.

The “Lion” trailer is packed with spoilers.  Avoid!

I watched Lion on a wise person’s recommendation recently on a plane to Chennai.  I thought the first half, featuring the stunning Sunny Pawar as Saroo, was riveting – especially if, like me, you hadn’t seen the trailer and the plot developments came as a complete surprise.  The second part, which featured amongst others Nicole Kidman, struck me as OK but relatively routine and schmalzy in parts, especially the dodgy finale.

So why such a high rating?  I guess it’s the cinematography and the story of that poor child trying to find his way.  Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on Lion cites Salman Rushdie saying that he was usually suspicious of Western films set in contemporary India, but that the first half of Lion rang particularly true.  Correct.  I was gripped.

The movie is reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire – also featuring Dev Patel, who plays the adult Saroo.  But Slumdog has a more sophisticated, conventional story and I always had a sense that everything would turn out OK.  Lion, by contrast, had me worried through long periods.

I recently wrote a review of India and of the novel Shantaram (hit the link to see my rather fine pictures) which concluded that the former was awesome and the latter not a reliable guide to the former.  I’m not sure Lion  is a reliable guide to India either but it feels more authentic than Shantaram.

In fact even Lagaan (subtitle: Once Upon a Time in India) feels more authentic than Shantaram.

The trailer for the all-singing, all-dancing Lagaan is a noble attempt to sell a cricket-based Indian movie to a US audience.  

If you haven’t seen Lagaan; have a bit of time; and, have, perhaps, consumed a beer or a glass of wine, I would recommend it.  Excellent story, songs, dances and truly villainous British colonialists.  In fact, the Brits in Lagaan are (with one or two noble exceptions) so villainous that I was puzzled that in the climactic cricket scene, the umpires, who play a key role in making the outcome possible, are themselves British.

To understand how this comes about, take a look at the “Deleted Scenes” on the Lagaan DVD.   Then, it kind of makes sense.

For: Lion’s first half is a tour de force.

Against: the second half is less good.

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