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Australian release poster
|Directed by||Garth Davis|
|Screenplay by||Luke Davies|
|Based on||A Long Way Home
by Saroo Brierley
|Edited by||Alexandre de Franceschi|
|Box office||$140.3 million|
Lion is a 2016 biographical drama film directed by Garth Davis (in his feature debut) and written by Luke Davies, based on the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. The film stars Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, and tells the true story of how Brierley, 25 years after being separated from his family in Burhanpur, sets out to find them.
The film, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2016, was given a limited release in the United States on 25 November 2016, by the Weinstein Company before opening generally on 6 January 2017. It was released in Australia on 19 January 2017 and in the United Kingdom on 20 January 2017.
Lion received six Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Kidman) and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won two BAFTA Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Patel) and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was also commercially successful making $140 million worldwide, becoming one of the highest-grossing Australian films of all-time.
In 1986, Saroo, a five-year-old boy, lives with his elder brother Guddu, his mother and his younger sister in Khandwa, India. Guddu and Saroo steal coal from freight trains to trade for milk and food. One day, Saroo follows his brother to a job and they arrive at a nearby train station, where Saroo decides to stay back and take a nap. Guddu tries to wake him up, but Saroo is too tired. When Guddu does not return, Saroo searches for him and boards a train presuming Guddu is aboard. He falls asleep again in one of the compartments, and wakes up to find the train in motion. After several days, it arrives in faraway Calcutta, where he does not understand the local Bengali language. He stands at a ticket counter and tries to obtain a ticket home, but the attendant does not recognise the name of his village, which Saroo says is "Ginestalay". He spends the night in the station with some streetchildren, but is then woken up and forced to run when a group of men try to kidnap them.
Saroo continues to wander around the city before coming across Noor, a seemingly friendly woman who brings him back to her apartment. She tells Saroo that a man named Rama will help him find his way home. Saroo runs away, sensing that Noor and Rama have sinister intentions, and escapes Noor when she chases after him. After two months of living near the Howrah Bridge, Saroo is taken to the police by a young man. Unable to trace his family, they put him in an orphanage. Three months later, Saroo is introduced to Mrs. Sood, who tells him she has placed an advertisement about him in several local newspapers, but no one has responded. She then tells him that an Australian couple is interested in adopting him. She begins to teach Saroo English and he moves to Hobart, Tasmania in 1987, under the care of Sue and John Brierley, where he slowly starts to settle in. A year later, they adopt another boy, Mantosh, who has trouble adjusting to his new home and suffers from rage and self-harm.
Twenty years later, Saroo, now a young man, moves to Melbourne to study hotel management. He starts a relationship with Lucy, an American student. During a meal with some Indian friends at their home, he comes across jalebi, a delicacy he remembers from his childhood. He confides that he is adopted, and his friends suggest he use Google Earth to search for his hometown in India. Saroo begins his search, but over time disconnects from Lucy, overwhelmed by the thought of emotions his family must have gone through when he was missing.
Saroo visits Sue, whose health is deteriorating, and learns that she is not infertile, but had chosen to help others in need through adoption, believing that there were already too many people on Earth. Saroo spends a long time searching fruitlessly for his hometown. One evening, while scanning Google Earth, he notices the rock formations where his mother worked, and then finds the area where he lived: the Ganesh Talai neighbourhood of the Khandwa district. He finally tells his adoptive mother about his search, and she fully supports his efforts.
Saroo returns to his hometown, and with the help of a local English speaker, has an emotional reunion with his biological mother and sister. He also learns that Guddu is dead, killed by a train the same night that they were separated at the station as children. Saroo's mother never gave up hope and believed that one day her missing son would return, and never moved away from the village. The film ends with captions about the real Saroo's return to India in February 2012. Photos of the real Australian family are shown, as well as footage of Saroo introducing Sue to his biological mother in India, who deeply appreciates Sue's care for her son. Saroo later learned that he had been mispronouncing his own name, which was actually Sheru, meaning "lion".
While writing the screenplay, Screenwriter Luke Davies acknowledged the challenges of adapting a book that is primarily about an online search.
In October 2014, Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman were cast in the film for the lead roles, although they were nominated in supporting categories. In January 2015, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Priyanka Bose, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Deepti Naval joined the cast. In April 2015, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, and Divian Ladwa also joined the cast. Pallavi Sharda also joined the film's cast to play Saroo's friend. Hauschka and Dustin O'Halloran composed the film's score.
Principal photography on the film began in January 2015 in Kolkata, India. In mid-April, filming moved to Australia, in Melbourne and then to several locations in Tasmania, including Hobart. Kidman filmed her scenes in Australia.
Sia wrote the song "Never Give Up" for the film which also includes the song "The Sun, The Sand And The Sea" from noted songwriter Jimmy Radcliffe and "Urvasi Urvasi" by the Indian music composer A R Rahman.
The film also includes songs from artists such as Hercules and Love Affair ("Blind"), Mondo Rock ("State of the Heart"), Enigma ("The Rivers of Belief") and Picturetone Pete and Jimmy Radcliffe ("The Sun the Sand and the Sea").
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2016. It served as the opening night film at the Zurich Film Festival on 22 September 2016. It also screened at the London Film Festival on 12 October 2016, and at the Hamptons International Film Festival on 7 and 8 October 2016.
Lion was made available on Digital HD on 28 March 2017, and was then followed by a release on Blu-ray and DVD on 11 April 2017. The film debuted at No. 10 on the Top 20 NPD VideoScan chart.
Lion grossed $50 million in the United States and Canada and $88.3 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $140.1 million, against a production budget of $12 million. On the weekend lasting from 17–19 March 2017, Lion crossed the $50 million mark at the North American box-office, becoming the fifth 2016 film among the Academy Award for Best Picture nominees to surpass this threshold.
In Australia, it opened at number one with $3.18 million, the biggest opening ever for an Australian indie film, and the fifth biggest debut for an Australian film overall. It grossed $22.7 million in five weeks, and eventually grossed $27.729 million as of 13 March 2017, becoming the sixth highest-grossing Australian film ever at the domestic box office.
Lion received generally positive reviews, with the performances of Patel and Kidman being praised. On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 86% based on 209 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.3/10. The critical consensus reads, "Lion's undeniably uplifting story and talented cast make it a moving journey that transcends the typical cliches of its genre." On Metacritic the film has a normalized score of 69 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Brian Truitt of USA Today wrote: "The finale is manipulative in every way, squeezing out the emotions of the audience. But Lion's well-plotted narrative and thoughtful characters suck you in so much that the journey there is totally worth it". Novelist and critic Salman Rushdie thought highly of the film stating that while he often lacked interest in films nominated for an Oscar, this year he rooted for Lion, believing that "I would like it to win in every category it’s nominated for and in most of the categories it isn’t nominated for as well." Noting that he wept "unstoppably" while viewing the film, Rushdie said that he is "frequently suspicious of Western films set in contemporary India, and so one of the things that most impressed me about Lion was the authenticity and truth and unsparing realism of its Indian first half. Every moment of the little boy’s journey rings true – not an instant of exoticism – and as a result his plight touches us all. Greig Fraser’s cinematography portrays the beauty of the country, both honestly and exquisitely [...] Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, in the film’s Australian second half, give wonderful performances too."
Some critics mentioned that parts of the film move along at a slow pace. For example, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote: "... based on a true story; though wrenching, there is barely enough of it to fill the dramatic space, and the second half is a slow and muted affair after the Dickensian punch of the first."
Lion received six Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Kidman) and Best Adapted Screenplay, but did not win in any of the categories. It did win two BAFTA Awards, however, for Best Supporting Actor (Patel) and Best Adapted Screenplay. At Australia's 7th AACTA Awards, it won twelve awards, in all of the categories it was nominated in.
two Australian films have been nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards: Lion and Hacksaw Ridge.
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