Dev Patel is a superb actor, and my may remember him from either of the Best Exotic Hotel movies or Slum Dog Millionaire or even the HBO series Newsroom. In this film he does not show up for about an hour, because the first hour is related to Sheru’s past as a small boy in India before he was adopted by an Australian family from Hobart, Tasmania. Sheru is the Hindi word for Lion, hence the name of this movie, but the young man in question mistakenly thought his names Saroo until he returned to India and found out otherwise. This movie is powerful in many ways, and is based on the book about the Long Journey Home for an adopted child who wanted to find his birth mother and family. Sheru was not given up for adoption, he was merely a lost boy. This movie is primarily set in India, a country with overwhelming population, poverty and pollution, and this movie unlike Patel’s previous movies in India is not a happy-go lucky tale, though it is an absolutely true one with some heart-warming elements.
From the ethical side of the equation, the movie raises lots of issue about the adopting of children who are say five years and older and who remember their birth family and experiences to a real extent. This is Sheru’s problem as he tells his adoptive parents— he’s not a blank slate, he has a pre-history, and he wishes to recover it. For two hours we follow his journey and agonize with him, and the plight of all lost children along the way. But what is the cost of adopting such children? Is the calculus such that one weighs things and says— on balance, its better he was adopted and had a better life? Or should more effort have been made to return him to his birth family before an agency in India gave him up for adoption? There are no easy answers here, and Nicole Kidman does a superb job of playing the conflicted adoptive mother, whose vision of having a perfect family is shattered again and again.
This movie has quite rightly received various award nominations, and we will see what happens with the Oscars on Feb. 26th. In the meantime, anyone out there thinking about adopting children from overseas should see this movie.