India’s high points:

*Kolkata remains city of joy with Garth Davis’ ‘Lion’
* New York’s Vikram Gandhi scores with debut feature, ‘Barry’
* Mumbai’s Nina Kulkarni shines in Belgium’s ‘A Wedding’

India and Indian actors both abound in international cinema of a high order in the close to 400 films being screened in Toronto this year. In this connection three polarised films have brought unexpected laurels to India, each in a different way.

A surprise hit, the most appreciated film of the first four days of TIFF and already being tipped as an Oscar player, is ‘Lion’, the debut work of director Garth Davis. It features huge star names such as Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and David Wenham. From India, the cast lists Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Deepti Naval, Divian Ladwa, Sachin Joab, Pallavi Sharda and Arka Das. The articulate Priyanka Bose is the only actor from India to be at TIFF.

Rave reviews of the film laud its India component, above all, child actor, Sunny Pawar, who plays the 5-year-old Saroor (the main subject of the film) and Dev Patel as his older avatar. Dev too has received the highest kudos of his career for this portrayal.

At the prolonged Press Conference for the film, it was Kolkata, the city where the film is set for most of its early part, that dominated. It bought back memories of ‘City of Joy’ when it was made. Although the title may have a pointed and poignant connotation, the film brought international fame to the city, as also to the film and its cast and crew.

Adapted from Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home, the film, set in 1986, starts with the harsh life of the eager, helpful five-year-old Saroo and his elder brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) They help all they can as their mother (Priyanka Bose) labours hauling rocks at a land site. But when Saroo finds himself separated from the others, he panics and boards a stationary train.He falls asleep, waking up a huge distance away in Calcutta, totally alien to him, even in its language. For months he manages to eke an existence, evading dangers from those posing as his rescuers. Finally, he is taken to an orphanage where a kindly Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) adopt him.

The scene shifts to Tasmania, Australia, and the boy’s wonder at this gadget-driven world is heartwarming and yet intensely sad. Twenty years later, he is the pride and joy of his parents. But, on meeting other Indians, he recalls his past and now wants to know his real parents. He becomes one of the rare lucky survivor among the annual recorded statistics in India of 80,000 children missing annually.

The film pays homage to the wide-eyed world of children, innate and natural wisdom helps them cope with the untold misery and hardship that chance foists on them.

New York born and raised Vikram Gandhi (his parents moved to the US in the 70s) follows his promising short films with an admirably confident and self-assured first feature film, ‘Barry’.

Apparently low-budget, the film details Barack Obama's fiercely testing first year at Columbia University as he arrives in August 1981 as a transfer student from Occidental College in Los Angeles.

The film looks at this likeable, well-read, sports inclined young man as he comes to this traumatising city. He is in search of his identity and comfort zones while confronting his lack of family as well as his cultural roots. His mother is white and living in Indonesia, where he spent his childhood years, while his father, who is from Kenya and living there now, is someone he has met just once a decade earlier. He sees that he is not at ease in any given situation or place. The well-researched film ( by writer Adam Mansbach ) looks sympathetically at its hapless, questioning protagonist caught in a world he cannot understand.

The film is timely as it looks at one of the most accessible and human Presidents that the US has known. In India, the film will reach out because of the way it candidly accesses the young formative years of a country’s most highly placed person and also because India, being used to its own frantic and disturbing internal diaspora, can empathise with the problems it places before the viewer.

From Belgium, the film ‘Noces” (A Wedding) by first time feature film director Stephan Streker, follows an honour killing by a Pakistani family which became a notorious and widely debated case in his country. It was a welcome surprise to see the accomplished Maharashtrian actor Neena Kulkarni playing the anguished and disturbed mother!

The film follows the 18-year-old independent-minded and rebellious Zahira, who finds she is pregnant but last minute cannot undergo the abortion. Her aghast parents, now aware of her waywardness, force her to look at possible choices for a suitable husband. However, the girl desists and leaves home to stay with a girlfriend. Later, she runs away with her local boyfriend. Her loving brother and young sister try all they can to protect her and make her obey the ways of their tradition. She returns to collect her Passport. The brother, weeping, distraught and trembling, finds he has no choice but to kill her.

This 2007 incident shook Belgium to the core. The brother and parents are in jail till today for committing the crime. The director’s stance here is objective with the parents presented as simple folk, kind and caring. He feels theirs is not an act of crime but one of a mindset instilled in them.

The actress (Lina El Arabi, Moroccan by birth) excels as the resolute, defiant young Zahira. The director is in awe and admiration for Neena Kulkarni saying that she is the most accomplished and experienced actor he has worked with. He waits eagerly for his film to screen in India.

(Cover Photo: Still from the movie Lion)