You are in the middle of your interview and suddenly, the interviewee closes his eyes, becomes quiet, calls out a random name, and almost freaks you out. But before you ask him something, he stumps you with, “So, how did you find my acting? Got scared, right?” After the obvious ‘phew’, you realise in that moment why the international audience has been going gaga over this eight-year-old, shining powerhouse of talent, Sunny Pawar, who stars in Oscar-nominated film Lion.
His poignant portrayal of young Saroo Brierley, who loses his way to home, almost gets trapped by the savage world and eventually finds another abode with an Australian couple, is a rarity. In real life, however, Sunny, like any other kid, enjoys a protected life. So, how did he manage to bring out the pain of Saroo? Especially when he and the director, Garth Davis, didn’t exactly have a smooth communication due to language issues.
“Garth used to talk to me through sign language. Of course, we had a translator. But, whenever Garth had to tell me if he is happy with a scene or not, he used some signs. I caught that. It wasn’t very difficult,” Sunny says.
The Marathi boy, hailing from a modest family, was chosen after a thousand auditions. He and his parents, obviously, didn’t take even a minute to think about the offer. What followed was a dream run for Sunny, as the kid who had never ventured outside Mumbai before, travelled not only to different cities but also to a foreign land. “I loved Australia. It is such a nice place. I never even dreamt of going there. I event went to Disneyland, and that was the best trip,” he says.
Besides the locations, another high point for Sunny was shooting with Oscar-winning actor Nicole Kidman. “She is very sweet. I taught her a few words of Hindi like ‘Namaste’, and we used to play cricket. I had an amazing time with her.” Sunny also has stories about Dev Patel, who played the grown up Saroo. “We used to have a lot of fun with Dev bhaiyya. He took care of us, we used to play games and it felt so nice to talk to him in Hindi.”
The dream continues for Sunny, as he is ready to make his Oscar debut later this month. But while the team of Lion is thrilled about six Academy nominations, for Sunny it is a chance to meet ‘big people’. So, when asked about the Oscars, he replied with a surprised look, which is endearing, “Are Oscars really that big? I don’t know anything about them but people tell me I will meet big stars there.”
But nothing can excite Sunny more than meeting his idol, Ajay Devgn. “It’s my dream to meet him. I want to grow up to be an actor like him. I like his Singham. That’s what I want to do.” And, unlike many others in the country, who swear by the Khans, this kid finds no connection with the trio. “For some reason, I don’t like them. I only like Ajay Devgn.”
But as he speaks of stars, little does he realise that currently, he is one of the sought-after personalities globally. “My friends tease me by calling me ‘Star Sunny’ but I tell them, I am not a star, I am just Sunny Pawar,” says the kid with a glint in his eyes and innocence in his words.