TIME World

8-Year-Old Indian Lion Actor ‘Disappointed’ After Being Denied U.S. Visa to Attend Film Premiere

"We will do whatever we can"

An eight-year-old Mumbai actor who plays a significant part in the film Lion starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman will likely miss the U.S. premiere of his own movie.

In the film, Sunny Pawar portrays the younger version of main character Saroo Bierley, a lost Kolkata boy who survives extreme circumstances (Patel plays the elder version of the character). It’s not a totally fictional movie; Bierley, a businessman, wrote the unflinching book about his personal history that the film was based on, A Long Way Home, which tells the story of the Australian couple who adopted him and his reunion with his birth mother.

The U.S. consulate in Mumbai denied the visa Pawar needed to travel to America for the film’s premiere twice without offering an explanation, according to the film’s distributor, the Weinstein Company.

Sunny’s father Dilap Pawar explained the process in a statement to TIME.

“We have been back and forth to the embassy many times and have not yet been able to get our Visas,” Dilap told TIME in an email.

The family and the Weinstein Company say they began the process of arranging for young Pawar to travel to the U.S. to promote the film at least one month ago. After the first interview process last week at the U.S. Consulate, which included Pawar’s father, the family was disappointed to learn Sunny was denied entry, but not deterred. (The Weinstein Company said they also offered the embassy a letter outlining the specifics of his temporary visit, proposing that his father and a guardian who speaks both Hindi and English would accompany Pawar.)

By the second interview Thursday morning, Pawar was still excited about the prospect of making the trip to participate in the promotional efforts for the movie, which opens Nov. 25. But now it doesn’t look like that will be possible. On Thursday, the visa officer requested an additional itinerary, adding “we are trying are best to get you to the United States as soon as possible. Congratulations Sunny! on the success of your film.” But the office will be closed to honor Veteran’s Day Friday, and Sunny will likely miss his chance to attend.

“It doesn’t look like we will make it in time for the Los Angeles premiere,” Pawar added in his statement. “Me and Sunny are very disappointed. I know it will bring him such joy to see the movie and see his friends from the cast. We hope we can make it there soon – we will do whatever we can.”

Weinstein has worked with attorney David Boies on this effort. “Lion is a true story of love, inclusiveness, and human commitment unbounded by race, religion, or ethnicity,” Boies said in a statement. “The government’s preventing the 8-year-old star of that movie from visiting this country shows how much we need to be reminded that those are our nation’s core values.”

Sunny Pawar stars in LION Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Sunny Pawar stars in LION
Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Sunny Pawar stars in LION
Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Nicole Quenqua, head of publicity at the Weinstein company, said: “His performance is heart-shattering, and we want him to be a part of this. He’s never even seen his little face on the humongous movie screen or seen the reaction to his work. We’ve been promoting the film without him and it feels very incomplete.”

Quenqua added that Pawar currently lives in a modest home and that the distributor’s producers created an annual fund for him. They’ve also helped him to start learning English since filming began.

“This just puts a spotlight on how unfair and difficult the world has become because he’s just an 8-year-old boy,” Quenqua told TIME.

The U.S. consulate in Mumbai did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

UPDATE: Sunny Pawar’s Visa was eventually expedited and approved. He was able to attend the New York City premiere on Wednesday, Nov. 16th.

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