The orphanage is a difficult place to live. They cut Saroo's hair and show him a bed in a giant room filled with beds. He meets a young girl, Amita, who becomes his friend, and she tells him that the orphanage is not a good place. He worries that he will never leave, and witnesses mistreatment of the children by the adults in charge. One boy, who clearly has mental health issues and sometimes hits his head on things, gets pulled out of a class and punished by the authorities. One night, some adults pull that same boy out of his bed and beat him in the middle of the night. The children sing to comfort themselves.
One day, Saroo is brought to speak with a woman, Mrs. Sood, who tells him that she helps children find their parents or get paired with new families. After showing an advertisement with his photo that has been put in the newspaper, Sood tells Saroo that 15 million people read the paper, but no one has reached out about him.
Mrs. Sood then tells Saroo that a Tasmanian family wants to adopt him. She shows him a picture of John and Sue and tells him that he will live a nice life in Australia. He keeps the photo and looks at it with Amita, who tells him that it will be nice to live in Australia. Saroo begins attending English lessons with Mrs. Sood. Sitting around a dinner table, the Indian children identify different words. When Saroo says the word "pepper," the other children laugh heartily at his pronunciation.
After taking his first airplane ride, Saroo meets John and Sue, who give him a koala stuffed animal. They take him home and show him the television and the ocean views from their home. He is shy, but excited to have a refrigerator in his home. At dinner, he confidently identifies the pepper, which charms and delights John and Sue. A year passes and we see Saroo on John and Sue's sailboat, and playing cricket on the beach with them. He is clearly adapting well to his adopted family.
The scene shifts and Sue, John, and Saroo go to the airport to meet Sue and John's new adoptive son, Mantosh. When Mantosh arrives, Saroo gives him a picture, but Mantosh hits it and does not seem to like it, much to Sue and John's chagrin. The scene shifts and we see Mantosh hitting himself and throwing a tantrum, before bursting into sobs. One night, Saroo finds Sue crying in the kitchen, and wipes her tears and hugs her.
20 years pass and we see Saroo swimming in the ocean, now a young man. He goes and has lunch with Sue and John at a restaurant to celebrate the fact that he is going to Melbourne to study hotel management. Sue talks about how proud they are of him. When the waiter asks if they want him to take the fourth place setting away, Sue does not want him to. It is apparently a setting for Mantosh, who does not show up. Saroo goes to visit Mantosh, who is living in squalor and perhaps addicted to drugs. Mantosh makes fun of Saroo's ambitions to go to college, and Saroo tells him that he should try and be kinder to their parents.
At school, Saroo attends a lecture where he spots a pretty girl and smiles at her. In class, the girl talks about the benefits and failings of hotels within communities in need. She makes the point that organizations need to make sure that hotels are not doing more harm than good. When the teacher asks Saroo why he wants to work in hotels, he says that he wants to make a lot of money. Another Indian student asks him where in Calcutta he is from, and he says that he is adopted and not really Indian, which makes the other Indian students skeptical.
Later, walking home, Saroo spies the girl from class and they walk playfully along parallel sidewalks. She hides behind a lamppost, then they begin skipping. At a gathering for members of their class, Saroo watches some of his Indian classmates teach the girl how to dance like in a Bollywood film.
On every step of his journey, Saroo learns another lesson about the injustice and unfairness of the world. At the orphanage, he learns that not everyone who has set out to help other people is necessarily invested in their wellbeing. Just as he saw that Noor was not to be trusted and the man at the cafe could not adequately help him, Saroo must contend with the fact that the adults at the orphanage do not always have the best interests of their charges in mind. This is especially true in the case of the troubled Shondeep, who gets beaten for having a mental illness. Saroo's early education about how the world works shows him that oftentimes, people who are the most vulnerable are the most victimized by those who purport to help.
Saroo's journey changes in a major way when Mrs. Sood tells him that he is going to be adopted by an Australian family. Saroo has been an orphan up until this point in the film, forced to wander the streets and fend for himself at every turn. Suddenly, he is presented with the opportunity to get taken care of in a way that is very foreign to him. He is shy and reluctant as he looks at the picture, unsure of how to feel about his new life. This adoption marks a major turning point in the film, the point at which Saroo's life changes in a big way.
Saroo's journey to Australia marks a complicated shift in his narrative, in that it is the moment in which he is given another chance at a happy childhood, but it is also the moment when he leaves behind his biological family for good. In his meeting with Mrs. Sood, Saroo continually asks about his mother, but she informs him that she has not contacted anyone and they cannot find her. The move to Australia and the acceptance of new parents take Saroo farther than ever from the family that raised him and the mother he loved.
Saroo grows into a beloved son, learning to love cricket and acting as a loving companion to his two parents. His kindness and stability are contrasted by the arrival of his far-less-stable adopted brother, Mantosh, who seems to suffer from some post-traumatic mental illness and grows up to be a very troubled and unambitious young man. The contrast between Saroo and Mantosh is a tense one, and Saroo comes to represent the model adopted child, easily assimilable to his new life, while Mantosh represents the poorly adjusted adopted child, too scarred by his difficult beginnings to make a fresh start.
When Saroo gets to college, he begins to realize the complexities of his ethnic and national identity. In a class, another Indian student asks him if he was born in Australia, and he informs her that, even though he was born in Calcutta, he is "not really Indian," since he was adopted. An awkward silence hangs over the class as the other students try to make sense of his refusal to acknowledge his ethnic background. After living in Australia so long with a white family and assimilating, Saroo is not sure of what part his Indian background plays in his life, particularly when confronted with other Indians at college.