EXCLUSIVE: On the final day of Oscar voting, the Bombay-born British novelist Salman Rushdie has written for Deadline a guest column on the timeliness and importance of Lion, up for six Oscars this Sunday including Best Picture.  

Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Sunny Pawar - Lion.jpeg

Often, when it’s Oscars time, I don’t feel as if I have a dog in the fight. There just isn’t one particular movie I’m rooting for above all the others, one particular movie I want to see recognized and raised up so that everyone can see it.

This year, there is one such movie. That film is Lion. I would like it to win in every category it’s nominated for and in most of the categories it isn’t nominated for as well.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Efren Landaos/WWD/REX/Shutterstock (7532866l) Salman Rushdie The Berggruen Prize Award Ceremony, New York, USA - 01 Dec 2016

Lion is what, in England, they used to call a “three-hankie movie.” I’m not a big crier, but I was sort of glad I watched the film at home on a DVD screener because nobody could see how unstoppably I wept. To say it’s an emotionally affecting movie is to understate its power absurdly, like saying that The Godfather was an exciting film or that Lawrence of Arabia looked great. If Lion doesn’t make you cry, you should have someone take a look at your tear-ducts, which may be malfunctioning.

I’m frequently suspicious of Western films set in contemporary India, and so one of the things that most impressed me about Lion was the authenticity and truth and unsparing realism of its Indian first half. Every moment of the little boy’s journey rings true – not an instant of exoticism – and as a result his plight touches us all. Greig Fraser’s cinematography portrays the beauty of the country, both honestly and exquisitely.

Speaking of that little boy, Sunny Pawar, his performance is a thing of intense beauty. I am reminded that in 1939 the Academy gave a special Academy Juvenile Award to Judy Garland for her performance in The Wizard of Oz. As far as I know it’s the only time such an award was given. If ever there was a reason for giving it again, it must surely be Sunny Pawar’s exceptional work in Lion.

Dev Patel - Lion.jpeg
Mark Rogers

Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, in the film’s Australian second half, give wonderful performances too. Dev Patel, who in his playing must build a bridge between the film’s Australian present and its Indian past, inhabits his part with grace and fire. He well deserved his BAFTA award and I hope he adds to it on Sunday.

I admire Luke Davies’s script and Garth Davis’s direction immensely. The monologue penned by screenwriter Luke Davies, so brilliantly delivered by Nicole Kidman, in which she tells her adopted the son the truth about his adoption, is masterly. The blending of past and present, of the film’s “there” and “here,” is done with brilliant, seamless subtlety.

I’ve saved for last the most important reason why I’m backing Lion. We live in a time when politicians and demagogues around the world, from India to the UK and the USA, seek to divide us, to separate us into “us” and “them,” and to use fear as a means of dividing us, by making us afraid of people unlike ourselves, arriving at our shores, or already living among us. Much of this fear targets migrants and refugees, people looking to make new lives in new worlds, or simply looking for shelter from horrors they have escaped. I myself am an immigrant here in America and so, yes, that’s the side I’m on, and I love being told a story of how migration can enrich the lives both of the migrant and the people into whose home he is received. That this joining of two worlds can bring about a birth not of fear, but of love.

There could be no better moment to reward a work of art which tells us this story, which is the story of our common humanity.