The journey within

Tags: Films, Hollywood
The journey within
In February 2010, the US president Barack Obama sent off a note to an author. A thank you for a “lovely book – an elegant proof of god, and the power of storytelling.” Canadian author Yann Martel’s 2001 novel The Life of Pi has, after 10 years in development hell, finally completed its journey to the big screen. The film, which saw M Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón and Jean-Pierre Jeunet come on board, completed its journey with Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Scripted by David Magee and Yann Martel, the action-adventure epic brings together Suraj Sharma (selected from 3,000 youngsters who auditioned), Gerard Depardieu, Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Adil Hussain. Tobey Maguire (too jarringly recognisable) was cast as Martel initially, but later replaced by Rafe Spall due to Lee’s desire to have an entirely international cast.

The Life of Pi opens with Pi (Khan), named Piscine after the most beautiful swimming pool in France, reminiscing to a novelist (Spall) about his childhood. Pi speaks of his childhood in Pondicherry, a former French colony in India. His father, Santosh Patel (Hussain), and his beautiful mother (Tabu), ran a zoo in the seaside town. Pi, born a Hindu, found himself drawn to Christianity and Islam as a teenager. “Faith is a house with many rooms,” he says. Political pressures force the family to sell the zoo and board a Japanese freighter (along with the animals) and set sail for Canada. A terrible storm on the way ends in disaster – the ship capsizes and leaves 17-year-old Pi stranded in a lifeboat. His only company? A zebra, a pesky hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger strangely named Richard Parker. Hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery, Pi must keep all his wits about him for, as the food chain is established, only he and the fearsome tiger survive on “Pi’s ark”. Along the way, the lad manages to forge an amazing and unexpected connection with the tiger.

Filming the Life of Pi, which made its world premiere as the opening-night film of the 50th New York Film Festival, would have been impossible a decade ago. The rapid strides in technology, ho­wever, have helped Lee create a visually su­mptuous experience. The film, shot in India and Taiwan, showcases strong and honest performances by the entire cast, but they all pale in front of the real star: Lee’s mastery over his craft and the stunning use of 3D technology. Be it the realistic storm sequence, the bioluminescent fish that light up the water at night or the humongous sperm whale that explodes from the ocean, the visual sequences are akin to gorgeous paintings that entice and enthral. Lee introduced his film at the festival, saying: “You’re warned to never make a movie featuring kids, animals, water or 3D…You’re going to see them all here.” He must be applauded for stringing together a variety of sequences (the film is told in a series of flashbacks) to create cinematic poetry, ethereal yet strong on action. Come award season, Lee’s gentle yet astonishing The Life of Pi is sure to sweep the award sweepstakes!

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