Interview

I am not famous, I am Sunny Pawar, says Lion child actor


The eight-year-old actor chats with Cinestaan.com about his incredible journey from Kalina to the Oscars with the highly-acclaimed film Lion.

Suparna Thombare

Suparna Thombare

Garth Davis-directed Lion is an incredible story of a boy named Saroo, who ended up thousands of miles away from home in Kolkata and survived many threats to his life before being adopted by a Tasmanian family. Twenty-five years later Saroo used the Google Earth technology to find his old home and biological family. 

Eight-year-old Sunny Pawar, who plays the role of a young Saroo in the big screen adaptation of Saroo Brierley’s book A Long Way Away Home, is right now the protagonist of his own incredible story, which is unfolding even as I speak to him at a cast and crew party being held at Mumbai’s JW Marriott hotel.

  

Growing up in the slums of Kalina in Mumbai, Sunny knew he wanted to act from a very young age, but nobody in his family would have expected things to expedite this quickly. Like most children, Sunny’s influences came from what he saw on his TV screen. “I used to watch Chota Bheem and Hindi movies. When I used to watch these I used to feel like even I want to do this,” says Sunny.

The boy’s journey from a one-room shanty in Mumbai to the Golden Globes stage (where Sunny walked down the red carpet recently alongside Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman) could itself inspire another amazing movie. 

Pictures: Little Sunny Pawar in tuxedo vows everyone at Lion film premiere

On his trip to the US for promotions some days back, Sunny also found time to explore places he hadn’t even imagined in his dreams. “It was a lovely trip. I met new people, travelled and had fun. I went to Disney World, where I saw Mickey Mouse and Statue of Liberty,” says Sunny, who will be travelling back to Los Angeles, US, to attend the Oscars, where Lion is nominated in six categories, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. 

During his United States visit, he was featured on Hollywood Access and interviewed by the likes Stephen Colbert. If you watch those interviews, you will realise how this boy is unfazed by the spotlight he has suddenly been thrust into. Ask him if he was nervous and the Class 3 student says, “No. I wasn’t scared at all. I understand English, but I can’t speak. I am learning English in school, but I am not good yet.”

Sunny Pawar with American talk show host Stephen Colbert.

In fact, Sunny, who speaks Hindi and Marathi, used to learn his English lines by hearing and writing them down phonetically. Garth had developed a way of communicating what emotions required for the camera in a particular scene with the then 5-year-old actor. “He had signs for various things. For example, he would show this (places his hand on his face and then on his heart), which meant your face should look sad and ask your heart,” explains Sunny.  

The child actor says that he had the most fun playing with Patel (who plays the older version of Saroo), Abhishek Bharate (who plays Sunny’s elder brother) and Kidman. “Nicole Kidman was very nice,” says Sunny. “I used to play and laugh a lot with Dev also.”

Sunny Pawar (right) with Nicole Kidman
on sets of Lion.

The child actor’s journey began with his first audition when a casting call came to his school and then went on to a series of workshops and audition processes with the casting director Kirsty McGregor and director Davis, before he was finally picked to play the part. Sunny remembers the auditions being full of fun and games. “I remember they used to ask my pappa (father) to sit downstairs and take me upstairs. We used to play and have fun and also do acting. We would play games like once we had to stand in a line and run,” Sunny said about the workshops he attended during his selection process. 

Sunny says he is good at studies and does not want them to get affected. “I want to act and study at the same time,” he says, adding, “I study on my own,” and reiterated that he does not cause any trouble to his mother when it comes to his studies. 

And even though Sunny had a lot of fun with his co-stars, enjoying the acting process and got Indian food to eat in Australia, he couldn’t wait to come back home after spending three months away in Kolkata, Australia and Indore. “I missed home and my mummy, my sister and brother. I used to eat Indian food in Australia also, but my mummy made dal chawal for me when I came back because that is my favourite. My dad was there with me throughout the shooting for the film. But I was waiting to finish shooting and come back home,” says Sunny.

Once back in Mumbai, Sunny did get asked by everyone at about his role in Lion. “Many of them ask about what I did in my shooting. Some teased me ki mai sher bana hoon film me (that I am playing a lion in the film). I say 'no, my friend I am not a tiger, the film’s story is about a human being'.”

Sunny Pawar with his family.

Sunny’s parents, mother Vasu Pawar and father Dilip Pawar, are very clear that they want him to stay grounded, and are trying to make sure that the sudden fame does not affect him as at the end of the day he has to come back to his modest life in the slum, at least for now. And it’s apparent from Sunny’s reply when I asked him, “Now that you are famous, which stars would you like to meet?” “No, I am not famous... I am just Sunny Pawar. But I would love to meet WWE superstars like Undertaker and The Rock.” I mention that The Rock may visit Mumbai in May and Sunny gets shocked and excited. “Maybe, I could meet him then,” says the young boy with stars in his eyes, but his feet firmly planted on the ground.