A consultant for the film Life Of Pi, Samir Sarkar recounts his experience of working with director Ang Lee

For Samir Sarkar of Magic Hour Films, Oscar 2013 turned out to be very special. He had spent days with Ang Lee when Life Of Pi was being researched on and shot in Puducherry. Why him? Because “I was born and brought up in this charming little French colony”. He has worked with Rajiv Menon in Sapnay, Mani Ratnam in Guru, Santosh Sivan in Asoka, and Meenaxi. He was picked to help M Night Shyamalan when he came in 2004 for a recce to make the movie. The movie went into hibernation.

An unexpected offer

In mid-2009, Samir got a call. “Are you available to work with Ang Lee on Life Of Pi?” Boy, was he! Lee landed, accompanied by a Hollywood team. The scope, budget, authenticity of the script and technology were discussed. Life Of Pi would come alive! “It was Puducherry through my eyes, as Lee said, ‘like when you were 17’.”

The movie demanded a high degree of authenticity — such as how Pondicherry looked and felt in the late 1960s, how the actors spoke English (and French) with the right Indian regional accent, the music playing on the radio, comic books that Pi might have read during his childhood. The director wanted to be right about the spirituality part and the Puducherry boy’s connection to the Ashram. “Ang listened, absorbed and felt more than he spoke,” Samir says.

“One morning, while walking past, I introduced Munna Sarkar to him. Lee said, ‘I think I have found Mamaji. This is exactly how I see Mamaji, only a few years younger’.” When Samir pointed at the heritage house of his grandparents, Lee and Gropman decided this would be Pi’s house in the zoo. The house and the Ashram swimming pool were built almost identically at a larger scale in Taiwan.

On Lee’s next trip to Puducherry, Samir looked on as Susan McLeod and her special-effects team created the coastal town of the 1960s and the zoo that never existed.

His role as a consultant continued during post-production, as he researched for soundtrack, sound design and dubbing of the film. Being on the sets with Ang Lee and interacting closely with him, he learned much “technically and humanly”. “Then came the premiere of Life Of Pi at the 50th New York Film Festival. I’m both humbled and proud to be a small part of Pi’s journey and this wonderful work of art,” says Samir.


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