By Troy Ribeiro
A much-awaited film released amidst a lot of buzz, ‘Life of Pi’, is thought-provoking too. It makes you debate the existence of God and ponder over human values.
In a way, that is the crux of the film, as Ang Lee sets out to convey this message through his protagonist Pi Patel, in a visually powerful and aesthetic film.
In a poignant, yet, simply told story, of animal instinct vs intrinsic human values of trust and friendship, which involuntarily tugs at your heart strings, Lee seamlessly amalgamates God’s three creations – man, animal and nature.
Pi is crestfallen as he witnesses his companions, the zebra, hyena, an orangutan, and many more gradually lose their fight for survival and he is left with Richard Parker, a Royal Bengal Tiger, as his sole companion.
Pi, who seeks a safe shore after the ship-wreck, is actually in search for answers to several deeper questions.
The 17-year-old Pi’s trials and tribulations with Richard Parker, on a 26-foot life raft, after he loses his entire family in a storm aboard the Japanese freight ship en route to Canada, take up the maximum screen time.
But as a viewer you’re not complaining. Engrossing and a visual indulgence, you enjoy every moment, save a few, stretched with cinematic liberty and fantasy.
There is a right balance of drama and brilliant visual effects as Pi’s struggle unfolds as a never-ending saga on screen. Lee’s depiction of the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker, subtly teaches us several lessons.
When in Pondicherry, as the owner of the zoo, Pi’s father had given him a graphic lesson of how “Animals will always be Animals.” But the humane young Pi could not readily accept it. The truth in his father’s statement rings clear, when at the end of their ordeal, Richard Parker, having reached his habitat, moves ahead, without casting a second glance in Pi’s direction. Although Pi does not term this act as “ungrateful”, it haunts Pi, leaving an indelible scar on his mind.
The entertainment value may be low during parts of Pi’s voyage, but Lee compensates for it in ample measure by the rich technical excellence he uses. Whether it is the turbulence of the storm, or the flying fish or innumerable meerkats lining an island, Lee holds you completely.
Suraj Sharma, as an adolescent Pi, steals the thunder from all other veteran actors, in an honest and spontaneous portrayal. Irrfan is flawless as a narrator and older Pi, reliving his early days in Pondicherry, and narrating his ordeal on the Pacific.
The teary-eyed Pi seeking meanings in Richard Parker’s betrayal is touching. Tabu as the mother effortlessly sails through her role, but it is her husband, Adil Hussain, whose true-to-life delineation as the owner of the zoo, conversant with life’s lessons and eager to have his sons imbibe those, is convincing. Ayush Tandon, the youngest Pi, is adorable and confident.
It is Lee’s film all the way, without a doubt, but director of photography Claudio Miranda and production designer David Gropman deserve a special mention for the marvel they have together created. The animation has been cleverly integrated, giving it a real feel.
The screenplay by David Magee, based on a novel by Yann Martel, may have its own interpretations of religion, with which one may not agree. But, the life’s lessons taught are truly universal. And that is what Lee has beautifully encapsulated in “Life of Pi”. “A soulful film with a universal appeal” is after all what Ang Lee set out to make.