In 1986, when the Dali Lama was meeting Pope John Paul II in India, a smaller simpler, more delicate story was happening far away in that country: a boy got lost.

In “Lion” director Garth Davis gives us the true story of that boy — Saroo Brierley, which is being hawked to enter the top 10 list for this year’s golden statues.

On that day in 1986 a 5-year-old Saroo and his big brother set out to steal railroad coal for their mother, an illiterate peasant barely existing in the maw of a colossal, disinterested country.

When it grew dark, Saroo was left alone while his brother set out for bigger treasures. Saroo sought comfort in an old railroad car, and fell asleep. When daylight broke, Saroo, who spoke only Hindi, found himself locked in the cabin, with the train rushing forward to the big, sprawling city of Calcutta, where Bengali was spoken, over 1,000 miles away.

Happily, after an almost unbelievable and frightening journey, we meet a grown Saroo, (a wonderful Dev Patel) who has survived his childhood odyssey through a cluttered and impersonal modern India, and eventually found himself taken in by a kind, wonderful Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) who live in Tasmania, where Saroo grows to manhood and settled in college with a variety of friends of color and languages.

At a dinner party Saroo meets Lucy (Rooney Mara) and a troubled romance begins, troubled because the lost boy he has deeply hidden all these years keeps trying to go home.

With Lucy’s and another friend’s help, he is led to try Google Earth on his computer, to find a path back to the childhood village, where he remembers a spate of familiar landmarks: a bridge, a road, a water tower. With hi-tech help, Saroo comes home.

“Lion” is a beautiful but disturbing film and director Davis weaves a frightening, almost unimaginable, but engrossing journey seen through the eyes of a 5-year-old boy who lives like a feral dog on unfriendly streets, but one with a satisfying conclusion.

Dev Patel, as the grown Saroo, clearly displays his chops as a film actor and carries the movie high up on his shoulder.

Rooney Mara is an actress of little color and few shades. But nothing in this part requires anything uncommon.

What struck this reviewer was the placing of Patel, who is best known for his brilliant comic turn in the two “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies that gave us a Disneyland India, where British expats lived lovely, safe lives in a flowery perfumed paradise.

The real modern India of course is a complicated land, a blend of beauty and ancient history and art, side by side with modern anxiety. We read constantly of gang rapes on Calcutta’s public transports, child sex markets and pollution. Some of that we touched upon in Saroo’s nocturnal journey. Some recent documentary studies show more.

Much of that is revealed in one scene, where the child Saroo is found and protected by a lovely, kind young woman.

After mothering him for a week, she soon turns him over to her suave, sinister boyfriend, who promises a new life for the beautiful boy Saroo. We know at once what this monster is offering. It’s a chilling scene.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser and costume designer Cappi Ireland, are wonders, and deserve mention and honor.

But of course the real star here is Sunny Pawar as the boy Saroo, a child of wonderful innocence and purity, with the eyes of a lost puppy. He will take your heart and crack it. May he live long and healthfully.

“Lion’s” last scene is of course a heart breaker. Save your tears for that one.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.