A 16-year-old boy stranded with a fierce Bengal tiger on a life boat on sea, ample breathtaking visuals, an element of surrealism and all that topped with some twists and turns in the narrative – all these ingredients make for an extremely delicious fare that the Academy Award winning director Ang Lee has served this time in the form of his new work ‘Life of Pi’, a film loosely based on the namesake Man Booker Prize conferee fiction novel written by Yann Martel.
Whether you have or have not read the book, watching the highly impressive 3D movie is absolutely once-in-a-lifetime experience. The movie stars Bollywood maestros like Irrfan Khan and Tabu and introduces young turk Suraj Sharma as the main protagonist of this adventure-fantasy movie. So here we have a middle-aged Piscine Moliter Patel (Irrfan Khan) retelling his hard-to-believe tale of survival post a destructive shipwreck to an aspiring author looking for an impressive story to pen his novel. Piscine flags off the narrative by explaining the cause of his unusual name. Although he was christened after the crystal clear water of a swimming pool in Paris, a school-going Piscine (Ayush Tandon) finds himself being tagged with a funny byname ‘Pissing’ (an Indian-style latrine) much to his irritation. But Piscine comes up with a smart idea to change his name to Pi, a symbol linked with a legendary Indian mathematician, to keep all those annoying comments at an arm’s length.
As Pi grows up into a Hindu household, as a teenager (Suraj Sharma) he finds himself being taken over by the three religions –Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. He follows the three faiths in his wish to love God and see him from the point of each of the said religions. Much to Pi’s disappointment, his family decides to leave India due to some political concerns, and venture to Canada with their Zoo animals and sell them off to settle down in a new place. With a twist of events, Pi’s ship gets sunk in the Pacific Ocean, leaving him behind on a small raft with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.
There is a dialogue in the movie said by Irrfan Khan,’ You don’t know the strength of your faith until it’s tested’. And this forms the basis of the entire plot from the point when Pi fights for survival on sea with a ravenous tiger till the end of his adventure-filled voyage. Be it the time when Pi has to deal with the ferocious big cat and train it to obey his orders, or the time when he has to eat raw meat to kill hunger despite being raised as a strict vegetarian, Pi’s faith is tested in every sense of the word which helps in developing his character.
In many ways, ‘Life of Pi’ draws comparisons with Jonathan Swift’s adventure-fantasy novel ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and here’s how. Since both Gulliver and Pi embark on a sea voyage, while Gulliver’s story ends up with him being rescued in a state of insanity, it is Pi who discovers his faith, his real being and finished off his 227 day journey on sea on a note of self-awakening.
When it comes to debutant Suraj Sharma’s performance, there is only one word to describe it –speechless! Yes, the boy is charming, emotes with finesse considering the fact that major portions of his scenes with the tiger are shot solo, he has done his job with remarkable artfulness. There is no doubt about the fact that Suraj has it in him to go places.
The kind of work Irrfan Khan has done is what Irrfan Khan does in all his movies. The actor knows his craft well, and it clearly shows in the way he has played the role of the narrator. It is a delight to watch the evergreen Tabu playing a doting South Indian mother when she encourages her son Pi to find his own path instead of blindly embracing rational thinking like his pushy and stern father.
Ang Lee’s direction is praiseworthy since the film manages to keep a firm hold of the viewer’s attention from the beginning to the last 10 minutes of the movie. No doubt, a maverick like Lee could have done justice to the film’s script. Also, the sequences in ‘Life of Pi’ is are every bit of a visual attraction, thanks to the flawless 3D work and the animation job that has made an animated tiger look real!
However, the only setback of ‘Life of Pi’ is the way it has been made to end. Why? After a whole lot of captivating surprises and dramatic twists, it was expected that the film would have an equally astounding end too but it was quite disappointing to see a tad too sober end to the story. The makers fell short of creativity there, it seems.
Overall, the elements weaved into the concept of the movie are just like the clear pool water after which Pi was named, and it is up to oneself to decide what lesson comes out of ‘Life of Pi'!