Really, what does it take to get an Oscar nomination?
Apparently it’s not enough to pretty much have to carry an entire film on your 17-year-old shoulders, to be the only human on screen for most of the film, and emote with a Royal Bengal tiger.
The Oscars nominations did not overlook Life of Pi. It garnered 11 nominations. But Suraj Sharma, the young Pi, was certainly overlooked. Forget Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck. This was THE Oscar snub.
Obviously the Academy didn’t think Sharma was too young for a chance at the statuette. Best Actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis was all of five when she acted in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Was the nominee of colour quota already filled by Denzel Washington for Flight? I don’t have anything against the actual nominees. Daniel Day Lewis has gotten raves for his Lincoln. Hugh Jackman made a splash with Les Miserables. And Joaquin Phoenix is a veteran nominee.
But come on, which one of them had to spend an entire movie, mostly alone, emoting with an invisible tiger? The Sharma guy spent most of the film acting in front of a blue screen. The tiger, the ocean all came later in post-production.
It’s not like Suraj Sharma got panned for his acting skills though he has joked in interviews that he never thought he’d be an actor because his previous stage role was that of a tree. He was the only male nominated for the BAFTA rising star award this year alongside Juno Temple, Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Olsen and Alicia Vikander.
The Guardian was all praise for his performance.
In fact, Sharma is wonderful in the film. It's partly the luxury of seeing an unknown teenage actor in such a big role – no knowledge about his private life, or the memories of previous parts to distract you – that makes him so believable as Pi, but mainly because he is so good.
Poor Suraj Sharma didn’t even know how to swim when he was picked for the film. He told the Huffington Post he was terrified.
And I had to film the scene of Pi watching his family drown so, right from the beginning, we knew I was going to have to hold my breath for a minute, minute and a half. We did a test, and I held my breath for 14 seconds, and that’s really bad… they trained me really hard.
He ate very little but tuna so that as his character starved on the ocean, you could see his ribs as well. In fact, he had to lose 20% of his body weight for the role. And Nicole Kidman got a nomination for putting on a prosthetic nose to play Virginia Woolf in The Hours! Sharma put his body through the wringer. "Working on the boat, you get cut up a lot," he told the Los Angeles Times. "but that just helps you realize what it feels like to be on a boat in the first place. So you just use it, I guess."
Sharma spent hours in a cold water tank in an abandoned airport in Taiwan. He said Lee told him not to talk to anybody for almost two months so he could really feel Pi’s isolation, adrift in the middle of the ocean for 227 days. "Slowly, inside me, I dipped in my mind and just went dark," Sharma told The Los Angeles Times.
Sharma’s mother did a ceremony that made Ang Lee her son’s guru before she entrusted him in his hands. Lee said he had to make sure he kept him grounded.
"He's a good boy," Lee said in an interview. "It seems like he can take it."
And I am sure Suraj Sharma can take this snub in his stride as well. He can console himself that at least he’s in good company. According to TIME.com, his companions in snubbed misery include the never-nominated Richard Gere (Arbitrage) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained) and Javier Bardem (Skyfall).
All those guys will surely get another film and another shot at the golden statue. But when will someone like Suraj Sharma have another Life of Pi come his way?
That’s what bites, tiger or no tiger. But never mind, Suraj. In our book you'll still be burning bright.