He’s the little star of the Blockbuster film ‘Lion’ and has spent weeks rubbing shoulders with Hollywood royalty but Sunny Pawar’s mother insists he will remain a normal boy back in his Mumbai slum.
Vasu Dilip Pawar, 27, first feared her eight-year-old son Sunny would not be able to commit his time to the film role because of a family bereavement but now she has no regrets.
She said: ‘I never in my dreams thought his life would turn into this. His innocence and talent has taken him so far. He is very lucky. I feel so blessed to call him my son, not just because he’s now a film star but because he’s such a special child.’
Sunny has been raised to sleep, eat and live in a single crowded room alongside his parents and two siblings in a run down slum in Mumbai, even sharing a bathroom with scores of other people.
Never venturing much further than his school or the narrow passageways snaking around his home, Sunny was set for a life of obscurity.
But a chance audition for a major Hollywood film has seen him thrust into a life of international travel and A-list celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel.
Sunny plays the role of Saroo as a little boy who gets detached from his brother before jumping on a train, waking up 1,000 miles from home in the city of Calcutta. He spent weeks on the streets before he was saved by an Indian orphanage which arranged for him to be adopted by an Australian couple and being raised 6,000 miles away from his home.
‘Sunny grew up watching Bollywood movies,’ Vasu added. ‘He loved acting and always wanted to be on television. But I used to tell him it’s a different world.’
‘It would be very hard for people like us to get into the industry.’
Sunny, who lives near Kalina, a Mumbai slum, was attending the government Air India Modern School, when a casting team visited one day.
Vasu remembered: ‘This casting team had gone round lots of different schools in the city asking kids to audition so when they arrived at my son’s school he was so excited.’
The casting team invited anyone to audition at a venue in Andheri, early last year, and Sunny persuaded his father Dilip Pawar, 32, to take him.
‘My husband has been Sunny’s biggest supporter.
‘He’d always dreamt of seeing his son shining across the globe.’
Sunny would not be doing what he is today without his father’s support,’ Vasu said.
Out of 2000 auditions Sunny was chosen as one of the final three. But after one boy dropped out, Sunny eventually won the role.
But when he was offered the life changing opportunity to star in a Hollywood film the family suffered some devastating news.
‘His aunt died just as he was offered the role,’ Vasu said. ‘We got the call but 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 and Sunny and his father flew to the shoot.’
Dilip gave up his job in housekeeping, earning around Rs10,000 (£100) a month, to commit his time to Sunny.
But Vasu remained at home to care for her other children, six-year-old Divisha, and Jignesh, four.
Vasu said: ‘I was extremely scared at first. He could not 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.’
Vasu believes the new experience will open Sunny’s mind to a whole new world.
‘His life has only revolved around this slum,’ she said. ‘I never allowed him to spend a lot of time with the outside world as I did not trust anyone outside the family. His life outside his home only involved school and tuition classes, nothing else. But what he has now seen, it’s like things people like us only see in our dreams. I really do feel, miracles happen.’
Sunny’s achievements has not only made his family proud, he has now become an inspiration in his slum community.
Grandmother Shobha Beema Pawar, 45, said: ‘Kids around our area have always been very naughty but Sunny’s achievement has given them their own dreams. They now have goals in life. It is good to see these children – and their parents – changing their view on life and career. These children now want to achieve something in life, and their parents have started supporting them. It is so beautiful that our Sunny has become an inspiration to so many others at such a tender age.’
‘This was written in his destiny and I thank the Almighty for that.’
When Sunny returned home after filming last year he was greeted with a huge welcome home party. Neighbours welcomed the little star with excitement and enthusiasm but Vasu just wanted her boy home and for life to get back to normal.
‘I didn’t want a fuss,’ she said. ‘He’s a simple boy from a simple family and I didn’t want him to think otherwise. I wanted him to remain the same boy. Thankfully he’s still very grounded and does not feel like he’s a star. He shows no arrogance or attitude. I feel proud of that.’
But Sunny’s time away meant he had missed his mother’s home cooking.
Vasu said: ‘I had missed him a lot so I cooked him his favourite fish fry and dhal on his return. He had been telling me every time he had called that he missed my cooking so he was quick to eat as soon as he arrived home.
‘I was happy to cook for him again and see him eating in his home again.’
Sunny Pawar’s future is now very different to what it was, but his mother is determined he will remain the down to earth boy she has raised.
‘This is just the beginning of his career but I will make sure this experience will leave no impact on his day to day life. He will get on with his normal life again soon. And he will go back to school. We have no plans to move out of this slum just because our son has become a star. We will continue to stay here and we will live a normal life just like before.’