- - Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mark Twain once said truth is stranger than fiction — which is why, when Hollywood gets wind of a truly miraculous, real-life tale, you can bet there will be a film made.

Based on Saroo Brierley’s best-selling autobiography “A Long Way Home,” “Lion,” opening Christmas Day in the District, is an uplifting, true story about an Indian boy who falls asleep on a train only to wake up and realize he is hundreds of miles from home in a strange land where he does not speak the language.

“Roles and journeys like this don’t come around very often for a British-Indian actor,” Mr. Patel said at a recent Hollywood screening at the Arclight. “I’ve done films like ‘The Marigold Hotel,’ and people think I am going to be that buzz-cut-haired, goofy dude, full of craziness and hyperactivity.

“I’m drawn to underdog stories, and there was so much about it, so [many] shades of gray.”

Mr. Patel, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, spoke at the screening with the real Mr. Brierley, who was flown in from Tasmania as part of the movie’s promotion. In the film Mr. Patel plays Saroo once he grows into adulthood. He spent time on the set observing Sunny Pawar, who portrays young Saroo, before filming his own scenes.

“That was important to absorb that and feel it,” Mr. Patel said. “To imagine yourself, as a young child, going through that is terrifying.”

Now grown, Saroo is determined to find his mother and return to the village in India where he grew up.

“One of the main reasons I take on a lot of my roles is because of my mother. We have a really close bond,” Mr. Patel said of the personal connection he found in “Lion,” adding that it was his own mother who nudged him into acting. “And just like Sunny … I was auditioning with thousands of kids,” he said.

Saroo’s Tasmanian mother is played by Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for “Lion.”

“My mom and I were over the moon that Nicole got the role,” enthused Mr. Brierley. “She had a massive smile the whole time. Everyone at her work was calling her ‘Nicole.’”

“When you are acting and you can bring a face of honesty and a real face of love to the role, it becomes so much more nourishing for the performer,” Mr. Patel said.

The “Lion” producers have launched a social impact campaign to help the untold number of lost children in India today. Mr. Patel is working on advocacy for the campaign to — with the hashtag #LionHeart — to raise awareness for the 11 million children who live on the streets of India.

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