Sunny and father Dilip, 32, arrived in Kalina, a Mumbai slum, on Wednesday and was given garlands of flowers He was the star of the Oscars in Los Angeles on Sunday with celebrities lining up for photos with him The boy was picked out of 2,000 children to be cast in nominated film Lion and stars in another film this year
On Sunday, he melted hearts at the Oscars when he was lifted up by host Jimmy Kimmel to recreate an iconic moment from the Lion King.
Now almost a week later, Sunny Pawar was welcomed back to his slum home with garlands of bright orange flowers and invites to lunch with politicians.
The star of the Oscars, eight, is now a superstar back in his home country too.
He said. ‘It’s been crazy. People have not stopped calling since we arrived home. We’ve not stopped to rest for one minute.
‘I love seeing my family get the respect they deserve. I would not have done any of this without their support.
‘Nobody has treated us like we’re a poor family or live in a slum during this journey. I can only hope it continues and my family are treated well wherever they go.’
Sunny and his father Dilip Pawar, 32, arrived home to Kalina, a Mumbai slum, on Wednesday morning and arrived to a party outside his home.
Sunny said: ‘I’ve not had time to even think yet. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing and media and politicians have continued coming to our door.’
Sunny was the star of the 89th Academy Awards, in Los Angeles, on Sunday, with almost every star wanting a photo taken with the little pint sized cutie.
‘I still don’t know who half of the people were,’ he giggled. ‘They were all lovely to me. And they made me feel like a superstar but I had not seen their films, I didn’t recognize many of them.
‘Dev Patel is still the best star I have met. He’s my best friend now. He’s my super star.’
After being chosen from 2,000 children Sunny was chosen to play the younger part of Saroo Brierley, his ‘new best friend’ Dev Patel played the older Saroo and was nominated for an Oscar for his emotional portrayal.
Sunny’s father, Dilip, lost his job to accompany Sunny on his filming experience but he has no regrets.
He 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 that my son has so much talent. Travelling with Sunny has meant I am now out of work but I have no regrets.’
Dilip, and his wife Vasu Dilip Pawar, 27, live in a single room in a run down slum in Mumbai – sharing a bathroom with scores of other people in their housing block.
He and his siblings – Divisha, six and Jignesh, four – attend the government Air India Modern School.
And while at school a casting agent visited to announce auditions for an English movie.
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.
Sunny’s acting ambitions
Sunny’s mother Vasu said that Sunny has always wanted to be an actor.
He loves Bollywood films and wanted to be on the television.
Lion is his first movie.
After auditioning alongside 2,000 other children, Sunny made the top three.
He was initially turned down for the role, but after another boy dropped out, he got the part.
His father refused to say how much he was paid for his role in Lion.
Sunny is due to appear in a film later this year, called Love Sonia.
Directed by the producer of Slumdog Millionaire, it focuses on a girl who escapes a sex trafficking ring.
‘They invited anyone to audition at a venue in Andheri and Sunny persuaded his father to take him. My husband has been Sunny’s biggest supporter. He’s always dreamt of seeing his son shining across the globe.’
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. I was just asked 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.’
But Dilip wasn’t convinced it was the right decision to take his son out of gthe only life he knew.
Vasu was terrified of saying goodbye. She said: ‘His life has only revolved around this slum.’
‘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.
Vasu was terrified of saying goodbye. She said: ‘His life has only revolved around this slum. But what he has now seen, it’s like things people like us only see in our dreams. I really do feel, miracles happen.
‘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. 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.’
Vasu is a full time house wife looking after the family’s single room, where possessions are piled high again each wall with toys, saucepans and bedding crammed into the tiny space.
‘I was extremely scared when he left,’ she added. ‘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.’
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 me 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, couldn’t wait to start a new day so filming could continue. ‘I couldn’t wait to go to sleep at night so that I could 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 feel so comfortable.
‘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. Gareth 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 even played cricket with them.
‘We had a lot of fun together,’ he said. ‘I really liked Dev and Nicole Aunt. They are absolutely fabulous.
‘I played cricket a lot with them but Nicole Aunt is not very good at cricket even though she tried her best.
‘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 Gareth Uncle developed sign language between us.
‘He’d use his hands to explain some things and I could understand what he wanted.’
The film has been a smash hit and it’s now been nominated for six Oscar nominations, including Best Film, Best Supporting Actor for Dev Patel and Best Supporting Actress for Nicole Kidman.
Back in Mumbai, Sunny is enjoying his mother’s home cooking again, including his favourite meal of dahl and fish fry.
And he’s back at school where he’s enjoying the attention and praise from friends and school staff and playing cricket with his friends 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, has returned home unemployed.
‘I lost my job,’ 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 changes like this don’t come often. I am very proud that Sunny has had this extraordinary opportunity.’
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