Saroo sees a group of homeless children in the train station tunnel and leans against a wall across the tunnel. One of the boys motions to a flattened box and Saroo goes over to sleep on it. The children are later awakened by men who chase them out of the tunnel and grab some of them. Saroo is able to escape, running past an officer and through a narrow gate.
He runs to a bridge and looks out at the lights of the city. He sees a large ornate statue of a lion, surrounded by candles, a religious shrine, and takes some food that is sitting near the statue. The next morning, he sees people engaged in religious rituals next to the river.
One day, on the river, he meets a woman, Noor, who speaks to him and soon realizes that he speaks Hindi, not Bengali. He tells her he is trying to get home and she offers him food back at her home. There he sees a kite flying through the air outside the window. At home, Noor tells Saroo that she makes lunch boxes for a group of men. "I help my mum to carry rocks," Saroo says, and Noor realizes how poor he is, before pulling out a soda for the boy. They share the soda and laugh together. Later, she bathes him.
That night, Noor tells Saroo that a man named Rama is coming the next day, and that he will help Saroo. "Is he going to help me look for my mum?" Saroo asks, and Noor says that he will. The next morning, Saroo meets Rama, who looks him over and lies down in the bed with him. They lie down and Rama tells him that he's come from far away to meet him. After caressing Saroo's face, Rama tells him to stand and examines his body, before telling Noor that Saroo is what "they" are looking for, implying that Noor is selling him into sexual slavery.
Later, Saroo sits at the table with Noor, but he is distrustful of her. While Noor puts on lipstick, Saroo runs out of the apartment, escaping. Saroo runs as fast as he can. We see a flashback of him helping his mother pick up rocks. He stacks them, smiling at her and she calls him a "good boy." In the present, Saroo is sleeping under a bridge and apologizes to his mother.
Two months later, we see Saroo gathering trash, as a butterfly flies near him. He sees a child being carried to a burial, then goes into town. There, he sees a man eating soup in a restaurant, and mimics the motion of his spoon with his own spoon that he found in the garbage near the bridge. The man smiles at him and then goes and brings him to an official to report Saroo's situation.
The official tries to figure out where Saroo is from, but Saroo cannot give them any information. They take his picture and he gets sent off to an orphanage.
It does not take long for Saroo to find other children in the train who are in a similar position as himself. After giving up on trying to communicate with adults at the station, he sees a group of orphaned, homeless children sitting on flattened boxes in a tunnel, making eye contact with one of them. The boy he sees pushes a box over, inviting him to sleep near them. For the first time since getting separated from his brother, Saroo finds himself with some understanding companions, who seem like they might be able to help him stay alive.
This situation has no sooner presented itself than Saroo and the other children find themselves in grave danger. A group of menacing men, kidnappers and criminals who want to clear the tunnel of homeless children, surround the group. Moments after Saroo has found a makeshift home and community, he finds that not even this meager sense of security can last or support him. The audience, aligned with Saroo, worries for his safety, concerned about whether he will be able to fend for himself and find stability in a strange city.
Saroo's journey is bittersweet, at once a tale of individual ingenuity and personal freedom as well as danger and human cruelty. Saroo's journey is punctuated by moments of beauty and calm, such as when he stands next to the river in Calcutta and sees the beauty of the religious rituals taking place there, or when he sees the kite flying outside Noor's apartment, or when they share a soda. These moments of beauty are then countered with moments of horror and harm, such as the chase scene through the train station tunnel, and the eventual revelation that Noor plans to sell Saroo into sexual slavery. Saroo's journey is defined by great beauty, but also great danger.
Noor's betrayal is all the more complicated because for just a moment Noor has acted as a kind of stand-in for his missing maternal figure. As they share a soda, we can see that Saroo finally has some maternal guidance and love that has been missing since he left home. Then, when he realizes she is going to betray him, Saroo flashes back to memories of innocent and loving moments with his own mother. He remembers moments when he helped her gather rocks for her work, and we see a flashback of the two of them smiling at one another, as she tells him he is a good boy. It is a heartbreaking moment, in which Saroo feels the extent to which he misses having a mother, someone to love him and care for him unconditionally.
Two months later, Saroo's situation begins to change when a man who spots him from a cafe window takes him to the police and reports his case. Saroo cannot provide them with any more information about his home or his family, but they take his picture to circulate around the country and send him away to an orphanage. For the first time since getting separated from his brother, Saroo finds himself moving forward in life, making progress towards potentially finding a community, an education, and a future. The journey there, however, promises to be tough in new ways, as reflected in his entrance into the crowded and chaotic orphanage.