A boy, a tiger and some great lessons of life....

Anuj Kumar
print   ·   T  T  
AN EXTRAORDINARY SAGA: ‘Life of Pi’ is an extraordinary mix of great acting, technology and wisdom put together in an unbelievable story of survival.
AN EXTRAORDINARY SAGA: ‘Life of Pi’ is an extraordinary mix of great acting, technology and wisdom put together in an unbelievable story of survival.


A sublime parable about faith and acceptance, Life of Pi underscores the boundless possibilities in the creative realm. It is based on Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winner but to me it is more like a Panchtantra fable re-articulated for the questioning minds of today. A seamless blend of persuasive storytelling and sound technique, the unbelievable story of survival pushes the envelope to that fertile estuary where rational and irrational meet and truth is reduced to a matter of your belief system. His logic-loving father (Adil Hussain) names him Piscine after a French swimming pool. In Pondicherry his classmates wonder how somebody could be named pissing! To save himself from embarrassment, the boy abbreviates it to Pi, the mathematical constant that has no end. The scientific constant provides an interesting link to the spiritual dynamism that the story holds in its layers.

Like the limitless number, Pi’s curiosity about faith is inexhaustible. He tries to practise three religions and wants to know if animals have souls. But before his belief can take a definitive form, he finds himself on a journey across high seas. The ship sinks and he finds himself on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger. The law of nature takes over and we are in for a breathtaking adventure. No, it is not your comic book adaptation in 3D where animals turn friendly and humans are born ringmasters. Here apart from the surreal proposition, everything seems credible.

For a change, 3D is there to add detailing and depth to the boy’s desperate measures to cling on to life and not as a gimmicky device to tide over lack of content.

Like the way his name appears in the credits, director Ang Lee conceals his influence somewhere in the sheets of the spectacular narrative which was once considered unsuitable for the big screen. How will you show a teenage boy spending 227 days on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker?

Lee not only brings it alive but also manages to steer clear of the big-headed approach that we associate with Hollywood spectacles. In no mood to show off, it is a spectacle treated with the intent of independent cinema. He makes you trust in magic realism effortlessly maintaining the sanctity of both. If the waves are awe-inspiring and island of meerkats enchanting, the scenes where Richard Parker and Pi learn to co-exist not only convey crucial lessons in life but also testify that cinema is a visual medium and you can say a lot without words. One doesn’t know if it’s Martel’s vision but unlike those Japanese insurance company officials who find Pi’s story implausible, one likes to believe in Lee’s story.

You can argue about the authenticity of Irrfan’s Khan’s accent but Irrfan more than makes it up with a gentle performance as the grown up Pi. 3D accentuates the depth of his mesmerising eyes, which really seem to have experienced the life-altering adventure. Tabu oozes elegance as Pi’s mother who hasn’t given up on Him and Adil is nuanced as always as the father who has little place for compassion in the business of life.

The stars of the show are Suraj Sharma and the CGI-generated Richard Parker. The teenager has put in a heartfelt performance and his physical transformation as the energy-sapping journey progresses makes the narrative all the more credible. It is not easy to react to a figure which is not there but Suraj never lets us know.

Lee and his team have ensured that Parker is not reduced to a gorgeous paper tiger. It is a fully realised character and perhaps that’s why a tiger has been lent a human name in the first place. But Lee doesn’t compromise with his animal instincts. And therein lies the success of the film. It neither falls on the side of popular taste nor tries to be too esoteric.

Amid all the philosophy, David Magee’s screenplay is laced with subtle moments which make you chuckle at the situation ensuring that the thought doesn’t become a baggage for the audience.

You can argue that the visual delight doesn’t translate as much into a spiritual experience as it is spread out thin to reach out to a universal audience and Lee has definitely cleansed the film of all possible spots of blood to keep it children-friendly but it is a film that needs to be watched as much for its technical splendour as for making us believe.


Those who are avid watchers of daily soaps don’t like to miss their daily dose for they fear missing out something crucial but those who are not as keen understand the marketing manoeuvres of the makers. First they pull you in and then deliberately take the go-slow route to rake in the moolah. Something similar is happening with the sagas on celluloid and the Twilight series is perhaps the best example.

Even if you miss New Moon , you can access Breaking Dawn. In an example of market muzzling creative integrity, the saga that could have been summed up in two parts has taken five to pan out for there are enough fawning teenagers game to give the franchise, based on the novels of Stephenie Meyer, a creative licence. It very well indulges those – and it is a significant number – who come to theatres to check out good-looking people turning up in the latest fall/winter collection but for the rest it is as cold an experience as the vampires it talks about.

The good thing is director Bill Condon doesn’t try conjuring up some pseudo-emotional upheaval. Perhaps by now he understands a section of cineastes finds cheesy tasty. Perhaps by now he knows that his performers, who believe that being wooden is an acting style, can no longer cheat. Perhaps that’s why Taylor Lautner is seen more as the imposing wolf this time! With the narrative about to lose gas Condon hits the ground running. Having become part of the Cullen clan, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is no longer sullen. Her new-found thirst for blood is sanguine. In fact she reduces Edward (Robert Pattinson) to a second fiddle this time but her concern for their child, curiously named Renesmee (the CGI effects are too apparent), doesn’t pass muster. In fact her skirmish with Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who turns up as a guardian of the kid, evokes some unintentional laughs. After some innocuous tricks in the jungle where Bella showcases her prowess as the newborn vampire, the film gets to the point.

Volturi, the ruling coven of vampires, gets to know that intermingling of human and vampire blood has happened. Their leader Aro (Michael Sheen suitably sinister) believes it could lead to disaster. Or is it just an excuse to wipe off the Cullens? Cullens call up like-minded vampires to prove that Renesmee is not immortal but it doesn’t help. For a few minutes the film digresses into pointless details and inane deliberations but the climax is pulsating both for what it shows and what it suggests. As beneath all the stylish bloodless head-hunting and popcorn emotions unravelling on icy surface there is a message for embracing change, intermingling with the other and accepting the other as it is. But in the week of literary adaptations on celluloid the Occidental sheen of Condon ends up as second best to the Oriental charisma of Lee. If one scratches the shiny surface, the other emerges from the depths to shine. Take your pick!



Recent Article in NEW DELHI

Natural Conservation Zones shrinking in NCR

The National Green Tribunal was on Monday informed about shrinkage of Natural Conservation Zones (NCZ) like forests, water bodies and was... »