Interview: Sunny Pawar, the Adorable Star of “Lion”

Posted on January 22, 2017 at 12:36 pm

sunny pawar
Copyright Nell Minow 2017

The breakout star of the movie “Lion” is Sunny Pawar, just six years old when he played the young Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family in India as a child, adopted in Australia, and then, as an adult (played by Dev Patel) searching for his original home on Google Earth. Sunny visited Washington D.C., where he was delighted to meet President Obama, who said, “Well done, my boy,” and gave him the traditional Indian greeting, “Namaste.”

Casting director Kirsty McGregor told New York Magazine’s Vulture they talked to more than 2000 children before they found Sunny:

Firstly, we were aware of the pitfalls of casting in India. We weren’t going to be able to search everywhere, because we knew that we needed to find a child who had papers, basically, because we knew we’d have to get him a visa to shoot in Australia….Sunny just has this soulfulness that you could just see. He has an ability to be still on camera, to be himself on camera, which a lot of kids, when they start acting, don’t have. A lot of kids can be natural on camera because they don’t have a preconceived idea of what acting is, but sometimes once they do, depending on what they’ve been watching as well, they can get an idea of what acting is and it becomes a bit more like playing pretendsies. We were really looking for naturalism.”

I saw that in Sunny when I got a chance to chat with him, with the help of an interpreter. We exchanged “Namastes,” and he told me that since he did not speak English, director Garth Davis would tell him what to do by putting his hand on his heart. “I wasn’t conscious of the cameras at all. It was always about having fun and I think I’m blessed to get this little gift of acting naturally so I wasn’t conscious but the emotional bits, since I was only about 5 1/2 when we shot the film. There was a sign language that Garth and I developed so he could say, ‘Sunny, feel it from here. Any unanswered question, ask your heart.'” His father, who was with him throughout the filming, said the same thing: “Don’t worry son, just be calm and listen to your heart. It will automatically come”.

Sunny’s character has some very scary adventures, but Sunny was not afraid, except in one scene. “All scenes were actually great fun — the train sequences, the running sequences — but there was one particular sequence I wasn’t scared but a little just nervous, it was the scene where a bike comes and hits me.”

Sunny appeared with Dev Patel at the Golden Globes. They play the same character at different ages so had no scenes together but they became good friends. “It was great fun working with Dev and you know he has this habit of tossing me in the air which I really love. He did it at the Globes as well and he’s like an elder brother to me now.” He does not watch American movies or television so did not recognize any of the celebrities, but he is a big fan of WWE wrestling, so his heroes are The Rock, Undertaker, John Cena, Kalisto, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. His drea would be do make a movie with The Rock.

He has enjoyed his time in America, especially meeting President Obama and going to Disney World, where he rode the Tower of Terror — twice!

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