Enjoying his first taste of global fame, Sunny Pawar returns from the Oscars to his Kalina home, recalls hug from “tall uncle” Samuel Jackson and dream meeting with The Rock
Mohar Basu and Rupsa Chakraborty (MID-DAY; March 2, 2017)

Kunchi Kurve Nagar, a slum in Kalina, hadn’t seen this kind of media attention. Their most famous resident, Sunny Pawar, returned this morning from Los Angeles after being at the centre of much attention at the 89th Academy Awards. Garth Davis’ Lion, a film about an Indian boy adopted by Australian parents, saw stellar performances by the eight-year-old apart from Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel.

His neighbourhood was buzzing with journalists, keen to catch Sunny’s eye. Workers of a political outfit that his father, Dilip, is affiliated to, waited to give him a hero’s welcome. His neck strung with garlands, mouth stuffed with sweets, Sunny was lifted into the air to cheers, much the same way Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel had done, making the iconic moment a favourite with international paparazzi.

Sunny is received at the airport by the media. Pic /Pradeep Dhivar

His mother, Vasu, who in an exclusive interview to mid-day had expressed concern that her little boy was homesick, was overwhelmed to see him after long. “It feels wonderful. I am glad to be back with my mother. I can finally go to school and play with my siblings,” Sunny said.

About the Oscar moment, he said he felt like a star when Kimmel lifted him. “I didn't understand much of what he [Kimmel] was saying, but everyone’s reaction gave me confidence. I saw my father looking happy and Dev bhaiya [Dev Patel] was smiling. I knew this was huge,” he added, suddenly asking, “How many people across the world saw me, you think?”

It’s not just the awards night that made Sunny’s time in the US special. He met dignitaries like Barack Obama, movie superstars, including Jackie Chan, and “a tall uncle” [presumably Samuel Jackson], who gave him a hug and said he will go far. But his favourite moment was when he met his idol, WWF star The Rock. “Meeting Rock [Dwayne Johnson] was a dream come true. I watched a live wrestling match too,” he said.

Vasu thinks her son is fortunate to have met international names despite his humble roots. “He would always imitate Bollywood actors and participate in school plays, but we didn’t think he would go this far,” she said. His father and Pranav Sahni, production manager at Take One Productions, helped Sunny with translations on tour. That he was always given Indian food made him feel at home. “I would eat rice, dal, dosa and sambhar, but it reminded me of my mother’s cooking,” Sunny recalled.

His grandfather Bhima Pawar, 64, says his chawl has become famous because of Sunny. “We have strangers coming to ask us about his whereabouts. Though Lion is an English movie, everyone from the neighbourhood has gone and watched it for Sunny,” he said.

Celebdom has its perks, even for those surrounding the star. Aena Pawar, Sunny’s cousin, told mid-day that friends who would once bully her have suddenly grown kind after realising that Sunny has made it to Hollywood.

Sunny Pawar with Triple H

Sunny Pawar with Jackie Chan

Sunny Pawar with Dev Patel

Sunny Pawar with idol, WWF star The Rock