He chose a 17-year-old newcomer Suraj Sharma to play the lead role of Pi and Indian actors Tabu, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain for other key characters
Ang Lee, who spent almost four years translating Yann Martel’s India-set fantasy adventure ‘Life of Pi’ to the screen, feels a sense of belonging to Pi’s journey and is ready to go around the world to introduce the movie.
“There is nothing more important to me than this movie right now. I hope it works. I will go around the world to introduce Pi. I am looking forward to how the audience play the movie in their head. I don’t have control over it but I hope they like it,” said the mild-mannered director in an interview.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who is behind genre-defying movies like ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, ‘Hulk’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’, believes destiny played an important role in getting him to direct the movie, which changed hands with many directors before landing Lee.
The project has been in the making for almost a decade and directors like M Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean Pierre Jeunet were involved with it briefly. Finally, Fox approached Lee in February 2009.
“I read the book when it first came out and four years ago, Fox Star Studios approached me to direct it. I immediately got hooked and knew that I was undertaking a huge responsibility,” said Lee, who is on a promotional visit here.
Talking about his predecessors, Lee says, “They backed off for different reasons and some never got involved. There was one director who even spent two years animating few things but they fall apart. It finally came to me. I think every movie has its own fate.
“When I started doing the movie I felt like I had a sense of belonging. I started longing to be a part of it and the movie became mine. I don’t look at the history or the future.”
The trailers of the film show some stunning images of India and the cultural aspects of Pondicherry, the setting of the story. Lee worked hard to get the cultural aspects right.
“I came here and I did my research, only then I started to think about structuring the story. I started putting pictures in my head about the Indian part in the film. We shot in Pondicherry, Munnar for the Indian segment and spent around a year to improve visualisation and computer animation for the ocean part,” he says.
The most difficult decision for Lee probably was to shoot the movie in 3D. It was a risk since most of the film is set in the ocean. The cost went up, making the studio jittery.
“It looked impossible and was expensive. Filmmaking is about new media. It is a new illusion so I started thinking about that. Later, I realized 3D did wonders with water. You really feel like you are there with Pi in the ocean,” Lee says.
The Taiwanese-born American director, 58, built a studio in his country for the water scenes. “We had to build a wave tank to simulate open ocean.”
Lee also decided to forgo big names from Hollywood to pick up an international cast. He chose a 17—year-old newcomer Suraj Sharma to play the lead role of Pi and Indian actors Tabu, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain for other key characters.
The only big name ‘Spider-Man’ actor Tobey Maguire’s scenes were chopped off and Lee reshot them with Rafe Spall.
Though he has shot some portions of the film in India, Lee has not followed Indian cinema. “I don’t watch many Indian movies but I remember some 10 to 15 years back I saw Sholay”
The film releases in India on November 23.