He’s the little boy from an Indian slum but Sunny Pawar was the cutest star of this year’s Oscar ceremony.
Little Sunny is just eight-years-old but he still enjoyed every minute of the ceremony.
This morning he said: ‘It was like a dream. People were just surrounding me and cheering, all these people from different nations expressing so much love, I will never forget this moment. It was Oscars, Oscars, Oscars. I still cannot believe it. I am on top of this world right now.’
After being chosen from 2,000 children to play the leading role in the ‘Lion’ film, Sunny went on to make a huge impact on the the Oscar guests, including host Jimmy Kimmel who lifted him into the air like the cub in Disney’s Lion King movie.
Proud father, Dilip Pawar, 32, who accompanied Sunny to the ceremony, said: ‘My son was selected out of all the kids in India, what else could a father dream of? Never in my life did I think this would happen to us. I never imagined I’d get so much respect in this life.
‘I am a very proud father. My son has so much talent.’
Dilip, and his wife Vasu Dilip Pawar, 27, live in a single room in a run down slum in Mumbai – sharing a bathroom with other people in their housing block.
Sunny and his siblings – Divisha, six and Jignesh, four – attend the government Air India Modern School. And it was at the school a casting agent visited to announce auditions for an English movie.
Sunny said: ‘I had no idea about the movie, whether it was an English or a Hindi movie. I had never seen a Hollywood movie, I just loved Bollywood movies and I wanted to be an actor.’
‘I was a little nervous in the audition but I didn’t panic. I was taken to a room, while my dad waited for me outside. He was praying throughout. They just asked me to be myself and then asked me to play and express some emotions, those 15 minutes have gone on to change my life.’
But when Sunny found out he was picked to play one of the lead parts, his family were given some devastating news.
Sunny said: ‘I was in class when someone in school said I’d been chosen. I wouldn’t believe it at first. I felt they were joking but when I realised it was true, I felt so blessed.’
‘I’d always wanted to be an actor.’
But Sunny had no idea what had happened at home.
‘His aunt had just died,’ Vasu said. ‘We got a call while we were with the family and we were in mourning. We couldn’t imagine just leaving. My husband couldn’t disrespect the family in such a way. But thankfully everyone supported us and our parents encouraged him to go. With their support and blessing we accepted the offer.’
Dilip wasn’t convinced it was the right decision to take his son out of the only life he knew and allow him to star in a Hollywood movie.
‘I wasn’t happy it was an English movie compared to an opportunity in Bollywood. We knew Bollywood and I would’ve felt better if it was a film in India. But Sunny’s passion convinced me. He said: ‘Give me a chance Dad’. I couldn’t stop him so I said yes.’
Sunny had to leave school for three months while filming took place, and Dilip had to leave his Rs 10,000 (£100) a month job as a housekeeper.
‘I was extremely scared when he left,’ Vasu added. ‘He couldn’t speak any English, he could only speak Hindu and Marathi, and he’d only ever mixed with his family and the people in our community.
‘We knew no one from the movie crew but they convinced me and assured me of his safety. They treated him like a family member, like their own child. My husband was with him throughout but the team helped them both greatly with food, clothes and toys.
‘They took care of him like their own child. It’s like he found a new family.’
Sunny loved the filming process and has relished every second of the experience.
Sunny said: ‘Filming went on for three months. We split the time between Kolkata and Australia. It was wonderful and one of the most beautiful times of my life. I was initially scared to face the camera but my father stood by my side every second and reminded me of my dream to be an actor.’
Sunny, who needed a translator with him at all times because he couldn’t speak English at first, couldn’t wait for each day to start so filming could continue. ‘I couldn’t wait to go to sleep at night so that I could get up and start filming again the next morning. The best moments were when I was acting. The dream of watching myself on television was finally coming true and the feeling kept me motivated.
‘The team were fabulous. They never shouted at me if I made a mistake. They were very nice people.’
‘I never felt I was amongst stars. We used to play and eat our meals together.’
Dilip said he was thankful to the crew for making him and Sunny feel so comfortable on set.
He said: ‘It was an honour to meet such a wonderful team. They’re so humble. At meal times no one started eating until Sunny and I joined the table, it was such a sweet gesture. They never treated us like we were poor. They’ve changed Sunny’s life. My son is more confident now. He used to be a shy boy, and was scared to speak to new people but now he is a different boy altogether.
‘I’ll never be able to thank them enough for the opportunity they offered my son. Garth Sir told me Sunny was a star and needed no training. It was the most wonderful thing to hear.’
‘I cannot explain how proud I am of my son. I owe my life to the Lion team.’
Sunny warmed to Dev and Nicole the most and often played cricket with them.
‘We had a lot of fun together,’ he said. ‘I really liked Dev, he’s now my new best friend. I played cricket a lot with Dev and Nicole Aunt tried to play also but she’s not very good at cricket.
‘They all treated me like their own child and it was an amazing feeling.’
‘I couldn’t speak much English but I managed. At times, during some scenes, me and Garth Uncle developed sign language between us. He’d use his hands to explain some things and I could understand what he wanted.’
Sunny had begun to love his new favourite meal of burgers but back in Mumbai, he was happy to be home to eat his mother’s home cooking again, including his favourite meal of dahl and fish fry.
And back at school he was enjoying the attention and praise from friends and teachers and playing cricket again.
Vasu said: ‘I didn’t want a fuss on his return. He’s a simple boy from a simple family and I didn’t want him to think otherwise. Thankfully he’s still very grounded and does not feel like a star. He shows no arrogance or attitude. I feel proud of that.’
But Dilip, who refuses to reveal how much Sunny was paid for the film role, will return home unemployed.
‘I lost my job for this experience,’ he said. ‘I was away for so long that they wouldn’t leave my job open. I worked as a road sweeper on my return last time but because I had to accompany Sunny on some press trips I lost that job too. But I have no regrets. Seeing my son shine has kept me calm. I wouldn’t change a thing. It has been the most amazing experience. There’s plenty of work out there for me, I’ll find something but chances like this don’t come often. I am very proud that Sunny has had this extraordinary opportunity.’