TIME: “8-Year-Old Indian Lion Actor ‘Disappointed’ After Being Denied US Visa to Attend Film Premiere”

by Joseph McKeown

Joining a long list of individuals who have been denied visas for entry into the US or had problems with customs and immigration when entering the US, eight-year-old Mumbai actor Sunny Pawar has twice been denied a visa to attend the US premiere of the film Lion. Sunny plays a significant role in this film starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman about a lost Kolkata boy who is separated from his family and is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. The movie is based on the nonfiction book A Long Way Home by businessman Saroo Brierley, who rediscovered his childhood life and home in India as an adult in Australia.

According to the film’s distributor, the Weinstein Company, the US Consulate in Mumbai denied the visa Sunny needed to travel to America for the film’s premiere twice without offering an explanation. “We have been back and forth to the embassy many times and have not yet been able to get our Visas,” Dilap Pawar, Sunny’s father, tells TIME.  The family and the Weinstein Company say they began the visa application process a month ago, and after the first interview, the family was still hopeful even though the visa had been denied. They were still hopeful at the second interview about Sunny’s chances for coming to the US to join the film’s promotional efforts and attend the premiere on November 25.

The consular officer requested an additional itinerary, stating that “we are trying are [sic] best to get you to the United States as soon as possible. Congratulations Sunny! on the success of your film.” Given the time constraints, Sunny will likely miss his chance. “It doesn’t look like we will make it in time for the Los Angeles premiere,” Pawar says 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.” 

Sunny joins such prominent actors and individuals as Shah Rukh Khan, the “King of Bollywood,” and India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who have been either denied a visa or had trouble entering the US. Attorney David Boies, working with the Weinstein Company on this case, tells TIME in a statement: “Lion is a true story of love, inclusiveness, and human commitment unbounded by race, religion, or ethnicity. 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.”

Nicole Quenqua, head of publicity at the Weinstein company, also says of Sunny: “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.” The US Consulate in Mumbai did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.