One of the first Hindi films I ever saw was Myra Nair's 1988 Salaam Bombay!, a film about children surviving on the streets of Mumbai. The most powerful scene for me - one that is burned in my memory whenever I think of the film - was when Krishna/Chaipau is lost in a crowd during a Ganesh Chaturthi celebration.
Nearly thirty years later, the 2016 British/Australian film Lion recounts the experience of a lost child in India.
This time the city is Kolkata.
But this time the lost child is rescued.
Lion tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a young Indian child from a poor family. When he is five years old, he gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from his home and family. Saroo learns to survive for many months on the dangerous streets of Kolkata before being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find and return to his lost family in India.
The film Lion highlights the love of family and the challenges of surviving in poverty in India with striking detail through the eyes of a five-year-old child. While Dev Patel's performance as the adult Saroo Brierly is outstanding, it is the adorable child actor Sunny Pawar who connects you to the story. You fear for the little boy as the train sweeps him far away from his home and takes him to a completely different world where he must learn who to trust and how to survive alone.
According to lionmovie.com, over 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The 2014 film Mardaani, took on human trafficking of girls taken from the streets for the sex trade. In his memoir A Long Way Home, Saroo Brierley explains:
Today, there are perhaps 100,000 homeless kids in Kolkata and a good many of them die before reaching adulthood. ...No one knows how many Indian children have been trafficked into the sex trade or slavery or even for organs. But all these trades are thriving, with too few officials and too many kids. ...Had I stayed on the street, there's every chance I wouldn't be alive today.
Saroo Brierley was fortunate that his journey took him to a loving adoptive home in Tasmania, Australia. But memories of his Indian mother, two elder brothers, and his little sister remained in the forefront of his mind as he grew up. His mum posted a map of India on the wall of his room, but no one could determine the location of his childhood home.
But one day Saroo Brierley discovered the answers were at his fingertips. According to the Google Maps blog:
In 2011, using vague memories and Google Earth imagery, Saroo identified his home town. Using the ruler feature in Google Earth, he mapped out a search radius by making an educated guess about how far he traveled by train. After countless hours of scouring this area of Google Earth imagery, he came upon a proverbial needle in a haystack. Saroo spotted one vague landmark that led him to the next, helping him unlock a five-year-old child’s memories. He eventually spotted a neighborhood, street and tin roof that looked familiar.
Like the film Salaam Bombay!, Lion is a film that will sticks with you by highlighting the plight of street children in India. However, unlike its predecessor, Lion offers hope and leaves you feeling that love, goodness, and persistence will overcome any obstacle.
A very hopeful message for this new year.
The following playlist features the trailer followed by other videos highlighting Saroo Brierley's story.
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