He is the cutest kid on the block, or we should say, ‘Hollywood’ block.’ And if the Academy Award for Best Child Debut were a category, he would most definitely be the hottest contender for that award, given his incredible acting range.  

And who can possibly forget his debut appearance at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards, where with his charm and adorable smile, he won over the collective hearts of Hollywood.

Eight-year-old Sunny Pawar, the little star of the smash hit, “Lion,” has been thrust into the limelight but he hasn’t let the stardom affect him. Among other things that prove how grounded he is, he still digs “dal, roti and chawal.”

With the Academy Awards just around the corner where Garth Davis’ drama “Lion” has scored six nominations, the Mumbai native, who is currently in the U.S., spoke to India-West about this Oscar-nominated film that has transformed him into a global figure.

“I loved working in “Lion,” Pawar told India-West. “It is a beautiful film.”

Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s memoir “A Long Way Home,” “Lion” recounts the incredibly moving true story of survival and triumph of an adopted Indian boy who, with the help of Google Earth, finds his way back home 25 years later.

Mumbai native Pawar effectively portrays the grief, the loneliness of the younger Saroo, who falls asleep on a parked train, where he is separated from his brother. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. As the 5-year-old, who ends up thousands of miles away in chaotic Kolkata, Pawar’s performance packs a hefty emotional punch, often leaving viewers teary-eyed.

Pawar was only five during the filming of “Lion,” but the young actor’s innate talent shines through as he effortlessly emotes scenes of a frightened young boy in a distant land, who is torn away from his family. With his nuanced emotional expressions and his realistic dialogue delivery, mostly in Hindi, Pawar is extraordinarily captivating in this tale of loss and hope.

Though he speaks a few words in English in the film, in real life, Pawar seeks the help of a translator for interviews. So, you would think, just how did Davis manage to elicit this sort of a performance from this tiny boy?

Apart from learning his lines phonetically, Davis and Pawar shared a secret language.

“Garth and me had a sign language which we employed whenever I had to enact an emotional or a sad scene,” Pawar told India-West. “Through signs, he told me how much sadness or any emotion he wanted from me.”

Pawar, who is exploring the United States, visiting places from Disneyland to Times Square, also scored a trip to the White House, meeting the then-President Barack Obama.

“It was a great moment,” he said. “I told him, ‘namaste,’ and in response, that uncle also said ‘namaste.’”

“He also said, ‘great job,’” Pawar added, still buoyed with enthusiasm.

He was in Washington to raise awareness for the #LionHeart social impact campaign, which was created to help provide the much-needed financial support for non-profit organizations serving vulnerable children in India. The benefiting organizations include Magic Bus, Childline India and Railway Children. The campaign has so far amassed a grand total of over $250,000. Readers can learn more about the #LionHeart campaign at www.lionmovie.com/#charity.

“Lion,” which has grossed over $56 million at the box office worldwide so far, has also been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

With no prior acting experience, Pawar, who was handpicked by Davis out of 2,000 children who auditioned across India, said it was an “amazing feeling” to see himself on screen.

“My parents and even my school friends really loved my work and appreciated my acting in the film,” said Pawar, a grade three student at Air India Modern School.

He also shared that math is his favorite, and that he is a huge WWE fan.

He also admitted to India-West that he didn’t recognize many of those stars at the Globes since he doesn’t watch American films. But he does know many of the wrestling giants.

“I love The Undertaker, John Cena, Brock Lesner, The Rock and Kalisto,” he said, adding that he is hoping to meet The Rock on this trip.

Finding the right cast member can be a Herculean task, especially if it’s a child actor. It took the Davis-led team close to four months to zero in on Pawar. A casting team was hired which scoured through several schools in India, including Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, before submitting 2,000 kids on tape to the director, who then flew to India to do callbacks. Small workshops followed where Davis just knew Pawar was the one.

Even though he is only eight, he is full of confidence. Pawar, who’s constantly giving interviews, shared that he loves “signing autographs, meeting new people, and taking pictures.” He quipped that he also loves “these interviews.”

A die-hard fan of Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan, Pawar, who aspires to be like him one day, has his priorities in order. He said he has no plans of forgoing his education in order to fulfil his dreams.

“Education is extremely important to me but I really love acting, too. I want to continue my acting along with my studies,” Pawar, who will next be seen in the Freida Pinto, Demi Moore and Richa Chadha starrer “Love Sonia,” told India-West.

Not many are aware that Pawar, who is grabbing a lot of media attention even since he stepped into the U.S., was denied a U.S. visa the first time. It was only after the production house stepped in, was he able to secure his visa.

And now producer Harvey Weinstein has released an ad for the film in thde Los Angeles Times calling out President Donald Trump and his immigration policies.

“It took an extraordinary effort to get the 8-year-old actor Sunny Pawar a visa so that he could come to America for the very first time. Next year, that might not be an option,” read the Feb. 9 advertorial.

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