By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Growing up as the son of immigrants in London, actor Dev Patel did not feel much connection to India.

In fact, he says he spent most of his youth "trying to distance myself from my culture."

That all changed after shooting five films in India. The latest of those, "Lion," is an adoption drama about a young man conflicted about his identity, and the film seems tailor made for him.

"It's kind of been the most nourishing experience of my career so far," said Patel.

Patel, 26, made his name as the star of the 2008 Oscar-winning movie "Slumdog Millionaire." "Lion," out in U.S. movie theaters on Thursday, is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who as a 5-year-old boy was separated from his family in rural India when he accidentally boarded the wrong train.

Unable to remember his home town or his mother's name, Saroo is placed in an orphanage, adopted by an Australian family and taken to live in Tasmania. More than 20 years later, he uses the Google Earth map tool to try and find his home in India.

"I could really relate to it. As someone who hadn't been to India as a young man and tried to hide (his Indian ethnicity) for a long time, when I went there for 'Slumdog,' it kind of opened my mind to a whole new level of consciousness and acceptability of who I am," Patel said.

Patel, who also appeared in the two "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movies, said he now finds India enthralling and exciting and a place that brings out "the innermost feelings of your soul."

"All those preconceived notions that I had as a young boy were broken, and it's a love affair with (India) now," he said.

In "Lion," the adult Saroo considers himself Australian, but little moments start to jog his childhood memories of India. He becomes obsessed with trying to find his way back home to his birth mother and family.

The actor said he hopes the film will highlight the plight of the thousands of street children in India.

"Stories like this can help generate a dialogue to get these kids off the street and put them in the right homes because there are thousands of people around the world who want to adopt children and don't know how to," he said.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman)