AKIPRESS.COM - A solidly crafted, emotionally stirring Australian film about an Indian boy who ended up on the mean streets of Calcutta and eventually in the cozy home of an Australian couple in Hobart has generated a giant buzz at the ongoing 41st Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
"Lion", helmed by first-timer Garth Davis and top-lined by Dev Patel, is the amazing true story of Saroo Brierley, an impoverished Madhya Pradesh five-year-old who lost contact with his birth mother after being carried 1,600 km away from home by a train on which he fell asleep.
The film, also starring Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Mumbai actress Priyanka Bose and child actor Sunny Pawar, tracks Saroo's search for his home in Khandwa a quarter century later with the help of Google Earth.
Based on Brierley's book, "A Long Way Home", "Lion" has been produced by The Weinstein Company and is expected to go all the way when the Academy announces its next Oscar nominations.
The film is expected to be a strong contender for TIFF's audience choice award, which is usually a harbinger of Oscar night glory.
At the post-premiere press conference on Sunday, Nicole Kidman, who plays the protagonist's adoptive mom, Sue Brierley, said, "This is a film about the power of mothers, whichever form they come in." The role of Saroo's biological mother Kamla is played by Priyanka Bose.
She said, "Lion is an incredible story of a lost man finding his way back home in circumstances that are stranger than fiction." For both lead actor Dev Patel and director Garth Davis, "Lion" has been a self-confessedly life-altering experience.
"The 'Lion' role was unlike anything that I've done before on the screen. It was deeply introspective. In real life, I am a fidgety kind of person. Playing Saroo Brierley was life-changing, and one of the more nourishing experiences I've had as an actor," said Patel.
Patel dismissed the suggestion that there were similarities between his 2008 breakout film "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Lion".
"The similarity between the two films ends with the fact that they are both about young boys lost on the streets of a city. Thematically and tonally, they are very different. Slumdog had frenetic energy. Lion is a sweeping human drama," the actor said.
Patel pointed out that in this movie, his character was more Aussie than Indian. "Saroo is an outsider in India. He cannot even speak the language," he added.
"'Lion' is my fifth film to be shot in India. The country is the most incredible canvas to shoot on. It is beautifully chaotic. You have ten people behind the camera to capture one moment," said Patel. For Davis, finding Sunny Pawar to play the five-year-old Saroo was almost as dramatic as anything that the film could conjure up.
"Putting a young boy at the very center of half of the story required a lot of hard work."Children in India are a staggering lot. Their spirit is absolutely infectious," said Davis, who hitherto directed commercials and television shows.
"I love difficult locations," said Davis. "People go to the easy places to shoot. I went to places in India that few films have gone to before." If the TIFF response is anything to go by, "Lion" seems destined to go places.