Mumbai slumkid and Lion star Sunny Pawar basked in the limelight at the 89th Academy Awards ceremony where he won accolades from the audience having some of the world’s greatest actors after re-enacting a scene from The Lion King with host Jimmy Kimmel. The seven-year-old was selected from 2,000 children across schools in India to play the role of the young Saroo Brierley.
A Class 3 student of the Air India Model School where he is good in studies, Sunny and his younger brother and sister, live with parents Dilip Pawar, a former government office sweeper, and home-maker mother Vasu, in a slum in Kalina in the western suburbs, near the airport.
Despite his humble background, Sunny zoomed through auditioning rounds in Mumbai and Pune to land a plum role in the blockbuster Hollywood biographical film Lion, sources close to his family and the production house said.
“Sunny was selected from around 2,000 talented children in a hunt in schools all over India, culminating in the final auditions held in Mumbai and Pune some one-and-half year ago. He fitted the role perfectly,” a source told IANS.
Sunny is cast in the role of a young Saroo Brierley, who was stranded in a train which catapulted him hundreds of kms away from home to busy Kolkata. There, he ekes out an existence on the footpaths, before a young Australian couple adopts him. The elder version of Saroo was played by Dev Patel in the film. The actor even thanked child star Sunny, saying “He’s a really beautiful little soul and I’m grateful to him.”
Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the awards ceremony walked down to where Sunny was sitting to talk to him strangely about the editing quality of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. A baffled Sunny kept his answers short and most of them were ‘yes’.
The child star lit up when Kimmel asked him whether he had seen “Lion King”. The host then lifted Sunny up to recreate the signature anointment movement from the hit animated film. Kimmel, who had parachuted candies for the Hollywood audience, had them flying down from the ceiling again, especially for Sunny.
Though he could barely speak English, Sunny’s bubbly, charismatic presence more than made up the communication shortcomings, with the cooperation of the entire film crew.
“Film director, Garth Davis had to put in a lot of efforts with Sunny during the shooting in India and Australia. For instance, he used sign language to make Sunny understand the dialogues, enact the sad or emotional scenes,” said the source.
The first half of the film, mostly hogged by the little Sunny, is in Hindi and he delivered the dialogues with ease and finesse.
But on the sets – his shooting schedules spanned over three months in Kolkata and Madhya Pradesh in India, and Melbourne, Tasmania in Australia – he was accorded ordinary treatment.
“No pampering of any sort, no special treatment in any manner. After all, he was playing a very emotional role and was required to keep that demeanour,” the source explained.
But, he chilled out a lot with his on-screen mother, Nicole Kidman, who he also taught to play cricket, and with his on-screen father, David Wenham. Some of those scenes finally figured even in the released film. At the shootings, Sunny was accompanied by his father and translator Rahul to interact with the production team and others.
See pics of Lion child star Sunny Pawar with Hollywood A-Listers
Sunny has become the most popular child star of the awards season. Close on the success of Lion, Love Sonia featuring Sunny and another Mumbai girl Frieda Pinto is ready for release later this year. “However, he has not exactly been swamped with offers from Bollywood. But that is because he has remained extremely tied up with ‘Lion’ and ‘Love Sonia’ and was away from the country for several spells,” the source said.
It is not known when Sunny will return home, but he can surely expect a Lion’s welcome! Incidentally, exactly 10 years ago, some slum children from Mumbai had grabbed global attention with Danny Boyles’ Slumdog Millionaire, which incidentally starred a much-younger Dev Patel in a key role.
The main child actors in that multi-Oscar winning film – Rubina Ali, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar – are now grown-up teenagers leading normal lives in Mumbai, away from the arc lights.