An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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I saw the adoption epic Lion. I was underwhelmed.

August 28, 2017

I put off watching Lion for months now, afraid it would be too emotional for me. I’d built it up, heard so many other adoptees and non-adopted folks gush about it, say how gut wrenching it was and how I ‘had’ to see it.

Purposely, I stayed away from all reviews of it and only knew it was a true story. I was excited to watch it as an Indian adoptee.

Saroo Brierley is the main character (played by Dev Patel) and his story has similarities to mine. An adopted Indian kid, raised outside of India, by a white family and he seems well-adjusted.

Finally, an adoption story about India, not Korea, Russia or China. And it was critically acclaimed as well, nominated for six Academy awards.

Here in front of millions of people, the actors would voice struggles and thoughts about identity, loss, and culture, that myself and other international adoptees have ourselves.

We’d receive validation. People would see Saroo’s difficulties and hear the same ones I’ve had my whole life as well.

That’s what I thought about before I saw it. I was disenchanted.

Yes, I loved the movie. I thought it was fantastic. I’d recommend you see it if you haven’t. And I’m glad I watched it.

But, emotionally, there was something missing for me. Even as I type this, I’m trying to ‘will’ a sentimental response to the movie and I can’t. I’m numb.

I hesitate writing that because it feels like a betrayal of the adoptee experience. I can only imagine what people would say, if I, as an adopted Indian guy said I hated the movie. The backlash would be intense.

My divergence with the majority of the adoptee community about Lion doesn’t invalidate my opinion. I haven’t lost my influence (whatever I have) as an adoptee speaking about my story and thoughts as a person adopted internationally.

That surfaces another problem with the adoptee community; we aren’t monolithic in thoughts or deeds. But there is an unwritten code that says we should all agree on certain things. For example, some adoptees are vocal about non-adoptees seeing them all as one, but yet when an adoptee themselves voices a different opinion they can be ostracized. The hypocrisy is not lost on me.

I must be one of the only people who viewed it without tears.

Even now, writing this, I’m not sure what to say about it, but I’ll try.

1) It’s a lovely film. The story is heart-wrenching and beautiful. The acting is top-notch. Dev Patel has never been better and Nicole Kidman, who plays his adoptive mother is wonderful as well. That it’s a true story makes it more compelling.

2) The adoption experience for me, as one adopted as an infant, is much different from Saroo. I cannot imagine leaving the world that I actually knew, familiar with its sounds, sites, smells, people and culture and being adopted when I was six or seven years old. I left India before I could walk. While the sounds of Malayalam were familiar to me on a basic level, leaving India was not the upheaval for me, as it was for Saroo.

3) The images and scenes which resonated the most for me had nothing to do with adoption, but more the life of poverty and squalor depicted in the film. That surprised me. I thought for sure the lines about ‘my real parents’ and others regarding the adoption experience would tug the most at my heart, but that wasn’t the case. I was more drawn to the downtrodden, marginalized and exploited, the scenes of hopelessness and despair aroused emotions for me.

The problem about the film is this; for me, a movie is truly amazing, if it evokes an emotional response. But Lion didn’t do that.

I’m going to watch it again and see if this changes, but I doubt it will. I also judge a film’s greatness by how much I’m thinking about it immediately after watching and then the days afterward.

Again, it didn’t pass this test either. I didn’t consciously think about it, except for realizing that I should write a blog post about not having feelings.

My mind was not rehashing scenes that I observed. The movie didn’t invade my thoughts as others have, where I could not stop thinking about it.

None of that happened with Lion and I’m unsure why.

4 Comments
JK
August 28, 2017 at 9:38 am

Haven’t seen it yet, partly because I assumed I’d need significant emotional recovery time. And I’m just an adoptive parent of a kid too young for it. Having lived in the developing world, I appreciate your comments about exploitation and poverty. Thanks for sharing.

    A.J. Bryant
    August 28, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    Hi JK, thanks for the comment. I appreciate hearing from my readers. You should definitely watch it and you may need emotional recovery time. Movies affect everyone differently, Lion just wasn’t the emotionally charged film for me I thought it would be.

Don Deal
August 28, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Thanks Adam. To paraphrase a basic tenet of scientific study — “The lack of a result is a result.”

    A.J. Bryant
    August 28, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks for reading Don. I hope you’re doing well. It’s been a long while. Have you watched Lion? It is the kind of thinking movie that I know you’d enjoy.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!