New Delhi: When Oscar-winning filmmaker Ang Lee selected a 17-year-old Delhi school student out of 3000 boys to play the lead in his ambitious 3D project `Life of Pi`, little did they know that their equation will change from a director-actor to that of a mentor and protege during the making of the film.
Suraj Sharma, who is set for worldwide fame after starring in the cinematic adaptation of Yann Martel`s 2001 Booker-prize winning novel, says his mother performed a little ceremony before the beginning of the film, making the celebrated Taiwanese director his `Guru`.
"From that ceremony or I think even before that, subconsciously Ang became my mentor and Guru. There are times when you are stressed out about something and you meet him, he will say something and you are calm suddenly.
"Ang has a Zen-like aura around him. I`d feel a lot of pressure sometimes because I`d never done something like this before, but his presence helped me a lot," Suraj said.
"When you are acting out sometime you feel that it`s not real, but with him it`s not like that. He would tell me `start being the character`, and that`s how he became a mentor. Outside the set he would talk to me about my college. He has become a very important person in my life," he added.
Suraj says nothing prepared him for the experience, not even the three-month-long training, and it was equally tough for others involved with the project. The actor says he fell in love with the craft of filmmaking despite the difficulties that they faced.
"They say that you should never make a film with children, water and animals and in this case there was 3D also. But I fell in love with the set. I loved the fact that you are creating something. It gets very technical and difficult at times but I was attracted to it. I am sure that now I want to be related to films and make movies."
`Life of Pi`, considered one of the greatest survival stories told through the eyes of a 16 year old boy adrift in the ocean on a lifeboat for 225 days with a Bengal tiger for company, has been a very difficult project to take off.
Fox 2000 Pictures bought the movie rights and many directors boarded the project, including Indian-American filmmaker M Night Shyamalan, but things could not take off after some time.
Lee, the man behind contemporary classics like `Sense and Sensibility`, `Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon` and `Brokeback Mountain`, came on board to direct the film in 2009.
The director chose to come to Mumbai to select an unknown face as the lead besides casting experienced Indian actors like Tabu, Irrfan Khan and Aadil Hussain in the lead.
Suraj, who became closely involved with the film apart from acting in it, says making it almost became a spiritual journey and the difficulties that they faced while shooting only brought the entire crew together.
"The movie had a lot to do about being interconnected. While shooting the film, it became a journey for us. Everything that happened in the movie started reflecting on the crew. We became a family... I don`t have the right word to explain our bond," he said.
Suraj is nonchalant about his upcoming fame as the film hits screens this November.
"I don`t know how to prepare so I will just wait and see. I am very normal. I feel people would have an idea based on the movie that I would some way be a big shot. I am not."
His older brother had gone for the audition but Suraj ended up being a part of the film. The youngster says his parents were apprehensive about him leaving his studies midway to shoot for a film.
"When I came back after the film I had to do my 12th again. For me, that was a bit difficult to adjust. College is easy. My friends are excited and they make fun of me too.
"But when I first got the role, my parents were doubtful because it`s an uncertain business. School was very important. But after `Pi` everything became easy. I went through an intense journey which has prepared me for many things."
Suraj is now looking forward to watch the film with his brother, who helped him prepare for the role.
"Everyone expected that my brother would be jealous of me but he was the one who encouraged me. When I got the role, I approached him because he has theatre acting experience. He was very excited and helped me get through the film."