So I don’t usually run film reviews but I thought I’d do a review with an alternate twist. As an international adoptee myself I feel this film is the first mainstream glimpse as to what its like for adoptees through our eyes. As it’s a cinematic work there will be some aspects that have been left out and others that could be “overdone” but it’s still a great insight.
Initially called Long Way Home the film shows the protagonist Saroo and his brother Guddu going about their daily lives in Northwest India. Initially raised in a village called Ganesh Talai Saroo and his brother grow up in relative poverty. They conduct some work and Saroo later opts to do some night work despite his brothers pleas that he’s not yet strong enough to do night work.
They take the train and Saroo is already entirely tired. He falls asleep at sundown at the train station bench and when he wakes up the station is entirely empty and desolate. After getting on some derelict train coaches he finds himself on a derelict train to Calcutta. Pleas for both Guddu and to help him off this train are of no use.
Upon arrival in Calcutta he not only finds he cannot speak the language (Bengali). After a handful of nights sleeping rough and getting chased by the authorities he is taken in by a woman (Noor) who seems benevolent at first. She is then calls over a man (Rawa) who takes an interest in Saroo and gives him a “physical inspection” and utters about how he is “the sort of boy they’ve been looking for”. Rawa would be due to return to the flat the next day
Saroo can sense something isn’t right and chooses to make a run for it during mealtime the next day. Rawa is the first connection we have to the adoption agency industry. It’s believed that some of these can use lies and trickery at times in their pursuit of more adoptions, thus creating more money. The fact Rawa lies to Saroo telling him they’ll be going to find his mother is a form of trickery portrayed within the film.
After wandering the streets he is picked up by a man who takes him to the police station. Since they cannot understand his mispronounced village name (Ganestalay) they believe him to be from Calcutta he ends up in an orphanage.
In the orphanage there are is a child who is banging his head against the wall fairly loudly. He is taken away and punished on site. A woman from the orphanage meets with Saroo to tell him that they have distributed his photo around and nobody has came forward. He is also informed that a couple in Tasmania, Australia would like to look after him.
Despite some early timidness and shock he settles in with the Brierleys well and later has a brother (also from India) who is more noticeably troubled called Mantosh. Mantosh would have bouts where he would hit himself in the head while still having cutlery in his hand.
In his adult years Saroo attends a course on Hotel Management. It’s here that after saying about how he was there to make as much money as he could and secure himself a profit (words to that effect). One of the Indians ask him “Where are you from” He later say’s “I’m adopted I’m not really Indian”.
Later himself and love interest Lucy are at a party full of mostly Indians. At this party Saroo notices a food type him and his brother Guddu ate at the start of the film. All the feelings come rushing back and Lucy discovers Saroo in the heavily pensive and depressed state. He tells his friends that he is not from Calcutta but is from a small village. They talk about it a little more and try to figure out speeds of the trains. One of the other girls mentions google maps as a tool. At this point Saroo has reached a point where he doesn’t wish to talk about it.
This stage is usually known as the defogging stage. It’s the point where an (usually adult) adoptee is likely to start mentally untangling the effects of their past and how it’s shaped thier life. We can put a lot of this stuff into the subconscious mind for years and it can sometimes hit us hard when everything unravels.
Saroo has hallucinations of the times back in India in the limited time with his biological family. He also has hallucinations of seeing Guddu in the food court in the shopping mall.
We see that his search has amplified and he has found countless railway stations with a track running across a bridge. Sadly none of these are his village.
This is good at illustrating the wonder of “where are they now”, “what are they doing now”, “do they think about me” and “are they safe”
We see that a whole two years later the search has not been completed and he is still looking. Adoptive dad knocks the door and tells Saroo that he know’s hes dropped out of school and just would like to talk.
Once the majority of the defogging period has happened a natural desire to know ones past and have some form of communication is likely to form in many adoptees.
Later we see Saroo telling adoptive mother Sue about his search. He asks her is she wished she could have children as she’d have had less baggage then with her adoptive Indian sons. We find out that Sue can have children but instead she and John were of a similar mind and wished to adopt from India. At this point he lets her know that he is searching and doesn’t want to appear as ungrateful.
This is a common worry among many adoptees. On one end many would like to open some form of contact with our birth families, but at the same time not wishing to come across as ungrateful to our adoptive families. We often want to know they are safe and know how they are getting on.
After finding his village of Ganesh Talai on Google maps Saroo flies out to India with keen hopes of finding his birth family there. Now a grown man he walks down the same pathways he did as a child. he manages to find his old home but discovers it’s now a pen for goats. Luckily the 2nd person he meets is a bilingual man. He shows the photo of himself taken by Calcutta Police and tells him he is looking for his mother and siblings. The man signals for Saroo to follow and they come across a group of women walking home. One of the older women is his mother
As soon as he show her the picture they hug and cry in each other arms. He meets his now grown sister and he is told unfortunately his brother “is with God”.
We later find that Guddu was hit by a train the same night. Saroo found out that he has been mispronouncing his own name. It was Sheru which means Lion.
Overall I think the film has captured some aspects of the adoption story well. It has given the general populus a first glimpse into adoption. There was not mention of feeling of lost culture which can also be present in international adoptees. However I understand it’s a 2 hour cinematic piece and there will be limitations.
I think that the way the film portrays both Saroo and Mackintosh is excellent. I truly believe every adoptee has a struggle and Mantosh symbolises those who “act out” straight away, whatever pent-up issues he has comes out instantly as anger. Saroo on the other hand has effectively bottled up that side of himself and it all comes out later through the initial defogging at the party. Whether intentional or not the directors have managed to fit in both types of character persuasion remarkably well.
I also found the emotional scenes towards the end to be cathartic. While the film does not substitute as professional adoption counselling shedding some tears of my own certainly did give me a release.
Despite the reunion we learn Saroo (Sheru) returns back to Australia to return to life in the Brierley family.
La Reina Razonable