“Your uncle told me that you have a story that will make me believe in God?” questions the writer (Rafe Spall) to Piscine Patel (Irrfan Khan), better known as Pi, in a conversation at the beginning of the movie. It’s an incredible premise, setting up enormous expectations for the story to follow, and leaving you roused in anticipation, even more so than all the early reviews, the stunning trailers and the featurettes gushing about its 3D, and the distracting hype that Oscar-winning director Ang Lee’s stature carries with it, have doubtlessly had already.
But twenty minutes into the movie, you’ve forgotten everything. You’ve forgotten the Oscar buzz and the 3D argument. You’ve forgotten the jarring accents that bothered you merely five minutes ago. You’ve forgotten the horrendous Peter Sellers-like brown-painted white man with the offensive Indian twang and you’ve forgotten the painfully trite use of sitars and tablas in the background score to give the Hollywood-manufactured “feel of India.” As astonishing as it may be, you’ve also forgotten the breathtaking, timeless beauty of Tabu that you longed to stay with, just a little bit longer. (And you’ve somehow forgotten that bitter feeling of envy that comes from Adil Hussain working with the most gorgeous of Indian women.)
Because twenty minutes into the movie, Life of Pi creates within you a strange feeling of calm, as the striking visuals and the powerful storytelling take over. You are then not just a viewer of the film, you are a part of the film’s wondrous, expansive world; a world in which you are Pi (Suraj Sharma), the 16-year-old boy stranded on a life boat in the middle of the ocean after a shipwreck, and a world in which you are also the carnivore, the majestic Tiger, who is stranded in the same boat with Pi, the only relatable part left of the habitat that once surrounded it. Twenty minutes into the movie, you are the movie, as Lee taps into your innermost, most primal emotions and immaculately plays them back on a screen grand and fitting enough to match the scale of Yann Martel’s ambitious novel of the same name.
Masterfully using the big screen as a canvas and painting a series of gorgeous images on it, but ones that are deeply rooted in human emotions, Lee infuses ‘life’ into Life of Pi, a novel largely about the 227 days that its protagonist, Pi, spends in the middle of the ocean with a tiger for company, and one that has largely been considered unfilmable. The movie is reminiscent of the Robert Zemeckis directed and Oscar-nominated Tom Hanks’ movie, Cast Away, in its basic premise of ‘Man vs Wild’, but is infinitely more gripping, and superior in driving home the point that everything you thought you know about life and its meaning change when you have to survive at sea (and of course, when you are in the company of a carnivore).
The tiger in the movie is, at times, a digitally (but astoundingly) created tiger and at times, the real animal itself, and more than just young Suraj Sharma’s remarkable portrayal of Pi, the triumph of the movie lies in the way Lee has used the tiger, both as a creature we fear, respect and perhaps one we are yet to understand, as well as a metaphor for survival, endurance and persistent grit, at a time when it could seem that your faith in God could only have been misplaced.
The cinematography, direction, special effects and art of the movie scream “Oscar” and superlative performances from the entire cast only help the movie’s cause. And for once, the 3D actually helps. It’s also gratifying to finally see Irrfan Khan in another Hollywood role after The Namesake (although it is again an extended cameo) that does justice to his talent - the final scene of the movie will make you understand why. But yes, though I personally loved the movie’s ending, if you are looking to be spiritually moved or find answers to the questions of life, reading the book may serve you better than watching the movie.
Because this is not a movie that will make you believe in God. It is a movie that will make you believe in Ang Lee.