Sunny Pawar, a small boy from far away in India stole our hearts last year, in the movie LION, guided with gentle sensitivity and great skill by the Director Garth Davis.
He did it again when I went to see a very special extended cut of the movie, the one the Director said many thought was too long and broke too many hearts, while dividing their movie test audience down the middle because it was just too emotional when first shown, which was why we ended up with the film we did.
From my perspective and indeed, much of the audience at the Palace Cinema Como on Thursday night April 6 in Melbourne judging by their reaction, found the extended cut version of LION, the one they will release on video, far more enriching.
It seemed to me to round out the emotional experience the original film provided in spades, and offered a broader understanding of the grown up Saroo Brierley played by Dev Patel, with the majority of the extra eight minutes resting on his wide shoulders.
The reason we were seeing this cut in the first place was the audience was also being given an opportunity to listen to Director Garth Davis being interviewed on stage after the show and ask him questions about the experience of making this wondrous movie.
What a delightful experience that turned out to be.
Erudite, with the ability to articulate so well, just as in the movie Garth Davis drew us into his world, where he explained how his methodology of working with his actors to gain their trust and to bring forth strong emotionally captivating performances, worked.
He doesn’t rehearse scenes with his cast but rather brings them together by using unconventional methods of his own devising. Such as blindfolding Dev Patel and having the young Sunny Pawar take him by the hand and guide him through the peaceful grove of trees that led finally to Saroo arriving at his home. Then taking the blindfold off and having Patel keep in that mood, and within the atmosphere of the place, while filming his reaction
LION was Garth Davis’s film directorial debut, which makes his outstanding achievement even more the remarkable. He won the First-Time Director Award, at the Director’s Guild of America Awards for the heart-warming film based on the bestselling autobiography A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, whose story it tells.
Garth Davis is considered a late bloomer because he’s only just now coming to film. However he has been directing commercials for advertising for over twenty years, a tough gig. He also worked with Jane Campion on the very successful television series Top of the Lake, during which she gave him some ‘tough love’ advice about going forward.
Working in visual media requires a particular and very special skill set, including special relationships with colleagues both behind and in front of the lens, which he has with his best mate, highly experienced cinematographer and editor, Greig Fraser, who also worked on Rogue One.
Behind the scenes LION scored six Oscar nominations including one for Greig Fraser for Best Cinematography and Fraser also went on to win the American Society of Cinematographers’ top honour for his work. He was testing formats such as LED lighting for Lucasfilm a year before he was to start shooting Rogue One, an experience he introduced the producers of LION to with great success.
LION is a Ying and Yang story; in the first half it’s intensely physical.
The tiny Saroo played so superbly by Sunny Pawar fights against all odds in a country as vast and crowded as India, which he calls home. Lost in the crowded city of Calcutta, he defines fate by ending up in a sparsely populated by comparison, city of Hobart in Tasmania at the bottom of the world.
In the second half the telling of the tale of a grown up Saroo starring Dev Patel, is all about the inner life, the one that defines us in adulthood. It is all about how our thoughts and actions are perceived and often judged by others, who have no factual knowledge about how we arrived at that point in our lives and what affected us on our journey.
There is an additional scene where the adult Saroo walks into the sea near his home in Hobart and tears himself apart emotionally as he rages aloud against the loss of his mother and his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), and we can feel his pain and know just what he feels like. It is excruciating to watch but vital to the story and I was glad it was re-instated.
Davis also talks about how vital Abhishek Bharate’s performance as Saroo’s brother Guddu is. In ways it has been overlooked as everyone concentrates on his captivating smaller sibling. Davis however stresses how important and defining an influence Guddu had on his little brother’s early life and how his own winning smile became a metaphor for his brother’s extraordinary survival.
Thanks to Garth Davis and his amazing ability to immerse himself in the story he is telling for many LION becomes a deeply personal experience, one that they can plug into on many levels, which is indeed scary.
How young Saroo survived his traumatic orphanage experience in Calcutta was beyond Garth Davis’s comprehension he told us, especially after he had visited that institution, which still exists today.
He related how it is an indescribably awful place, where the authorities send all the children who get lost in India, to live and its a wonder that he not only survived, but also lived to tell his extraordinary tale.
The extended cut of LION is undoubtedly to be released soon for people to download and watch in their own homes, where their personal reaction can be kept under wraps. One thing for sure is it will melt the hardest hearts and should be in many ways, required viewing for families.
Garth Davis at the end of his most enlightening interview only mentioned briefly the Biblical drama Mary Magdalene he’s finishing editing at the moment. Starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejofor and from The Weinstein Company, which made LION.
He related how he has used much of the same methodology as he and Fraser used on LION, which means we’re in for another emotional roller coaster ride and a real treat when it is released on November 24, 2017.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017