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lionPicture yourself as a five year-old, small in stature but large in spirit and eager to do everything you can to be your mother’s little helper. You look up to your big brother who, despite being only a few years older, is larger-than-life and everything you want to be. Your family is poor but hard-working and always full of love.

One evening,  despite your sleepiness, you ask your brother to take you with him on his evening job run – because life in impoverished Calcutta, India, means you start working as soon as you are big enough to carry anything and taking any job you can find. Your big brother reluctantly agrees and together you go on a train ride somewhere. You don’t know where because you fell asleep on the train and you can’t read anyway.

When you wake up, you are all alone on a bench on a deserted train platform. You call your brother’s name but get no response. You peek into every train car. You are tired and hungry. You become lost inside one of the carriages and you head into the great unknown. When the train stops, you get off but you cannot understand a word people are shouting at you. They are speaking a different dialect. It is now several days later and all you can do is survive the best that any street-smart five year-old can in a foreign environment.

Eventually, you find someone who speaks your dialect and they tell you that there is a white couple in Australia who wants to adopt you. Suddenly, you are on a plane that takes you even further away from your mother, your brother and your little sister. Now, not only is the environment completely foreign to you, but the language is even stranger.

Twenty-five years later, torn between a feeling deep in his heart to look for the family he left behind and his love for his adoptive parents the adult version of this now-Australian uses Google Earth to find his way home.

If this story had not been based on fact, you would be inclined to think this was another Hollywood “feel good” story. But Lion is based on Saroo Brierley’s auto-biography “A Long Way Home” documenting his life story and how he succeeded, against all odds, in finding his way to the mother he left behind.

Youngster Sunny Pawar, plays the lost little Saroo to perfection in his first acting role. His doe-eyed innocence is reflective of his actual age and unfamiliarity to movie-making, and that makes him all the more sympathetic to watch. Nicole Kidman and David Wenham as Sue and John Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive parents are solemn and understated. They demonstrate what a loving couple whose love for each other and selfless desire to make the world a better place for someone else looks like. Kidman’s personal experience as an adoptive mother shines through in a role that looks tailor-made for her.

Dev Patel continues to tackle challenging roles and showing his range (his lead role in The Man Who Knew Infinity deserved much more praise and attention than it did). It’s not easy to make obsessively staring at a computer screen interesting but Patel’s performance combined with Garth Davis’s direction based on Luke Davies’s screenplay keeps us captivated and cheering Saroo on. The only weak point is Lucy – Saroo’s girlfriend – played by Rooney Mara, not because of her performance, but that her character is underserved and would probably have been omitted had this not been based on real-life events.

What with everything going on in the world right now, Lion reminds us that unconditional love sees no boundaries and cannot be stopped by the colour of one’s skin or geographic borders. It is a truly uplifting film and be sure to stay to the very end through the closing credits.

Lion is showing across Australia now and has been nominated for a number of Academy Awards including Best Actor for Patel and Best Supporting Actress for Kidman.