Certificate: PG

Running Time: 118 mins

Star Rating: 4/5

ONE man's extraordinary true-life odyssey - to locate the birth mother and older brother he lost at the age of five - provides the inspiration for Garth Davis' life-affirming drama, which looks set for recognition in multiple categories at next month's Academy Awards. Screenwriter Luke Davies has skilfully adapted the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, elegantly cutting back and forth between traumatic events more than 20 years apart to accompany the lead character on his seemingly hopeless quest for emotional closure.

Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar are both terrific as the 26-year-old and five-year-old incarnations of Saroo, who is unexpectedly transplanted from Khandwa, where family and friends speak Hindi, to the giddy whirl of Calcutta, where residents speak Bengali, and then onto Australia. Cinematographer Greig Fraser captures these three locations on two continents in rich and meticulous detail, providing a compelling backdrop to the heart-wrenching trials and tribulations that will reduce audiences to puddles of saltwater emotion.

Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lives in 1987 Khandwa with his mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) and siblings. The five-year-old idolises his 12-year-old brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) and the two boys embark on a night-time excursion to the local railway station. A horrible twist of fate separates the children and Saroo is trapped aboard a train, which heads 1,600km east to the bustling shanty towns of Calcutta.

Unable to speak the language, the boy eventually meets Saroj Sood (Deepti Naval), who runs the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption and places him with adoptive parents John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham, Nicole Kidman) in Hobart, Tasmania. Many years later, Saroo (now played by Patel) is enrolled on a course at the Royal Melbourne College of Hotel Management and casually confesses details of his past to other Indian students. They encourage him to use online satellite mapping software to trace the railway line from Calcutta back west.