“This has exceeded the book fair and square”, commented a viewer sitting next to me. I have not read the book myself and wouldn’t be able to comment on that but to be honest, I have never before come across a situation where a source material has been outdone in the eyes of the reader by a cinematic representation. This goes on to tell a lot about the achievement of Ang Lee who has over the years delighted us with his thought provoking and breathtakingly beautiful cinema. Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. It was rejected by not one but six publisher before seeing the light of the day. This just goes on to prove that it is by anything but conventional. Many believed that it was un-filmable because of the intricate way in which it was written. Ang Lee however had other plans.
Pi Patel(Suraj Sharma) named after a swimming pool is trying to find his way to spiritual satisfaction through different religions living in Pondicherry. He is advised by his father(Adil Hussain) not to wander into a world without reason. His mother(Tabu) , on the other hand is in harmony with herself and her religion, which is her last thread with her estranged family as result of a less inauspicious marriage. Pi grows up with his brother but has a world of his own. He questions less and believes all. he even goes to the extent of seeing emotions in the eyes of a marauding man-eater and is rightly straightened out by his father.
As the family decided to shift bases from Pondicherry to Canada, Pi is separated from his love and muse Anandi(Shravanthi Sainath). On the voyage, the ship meets with a thunderstorm which shipwrecks Pi on a life boat with a Hyena, a Zebra, an Orangutan and a Royal Bengal Tiger who goes by the name Richard Parker. As the crew tries to survive the harsh conditions of the sea, Pi finds out that his spiritual self might be his only way out of the mess that he was in. He experiences situations which lie well beyond the realm of reality, sanity and reason and can be interpreted only through a believing mind.
Life Of Pi strikes the right chords from the beginning. The opening sequence, complete with the mesmerizing music score composed by Mychael Danna and performed by Bombay Jayashri in Tamil Language will envelop you as much with its visual flair as with its resplendent beauty. Each of the names from the cast is blended with the frames and they appear as part of the visuals and not merely stick ups. The sequences establishes the basic premise of the movie which is deeply rooted in spirituality and in other terms earth. As we meet an older Pi(Irrfan Khan) and then move back and forth between the plot, we never loose sight of the narrative. The screenplay is interestingly woven but abundantly understandable.
Moving along, the storm is depicted with never seen before ferocity. The shock factor comes from the fact that our protagonist seems to be enjoying the storm to start with and then goes on to loose his everything including his parents and brother. the way he is hurdled into the life boat will get the viewers exasperated. There is a brief moments where Pi is completely immersed in water and sees his wrecked ship sinking below. I am in dearth of words to explain the beauty of the crazy calm in this sequence. It has to be seen to be believed.
The relationship between Pi and Richard Parker is given a lot of time to develop. In a previous scene, Richard Parkers beastly nature is well documented to put the point forward that humanity is a virtue which is possessed by mostly human and beasts no matter how much serene they may seem will not abide by the rules of compassion and humility. As the movie proceeds, Pi gradually learns to tame the nature of his sole companion more than its body after the other animals kill each other off. There is a portion which involves the duo reaching a floating island which is carnivorous in nature. This island is a picture of unbelievable beauty. Especially the scenes at night. The sequence where both Pi and Richard Parker contemplate their selves in the reflection of the sea water and the subsequent pieces which follow has left me dreamy eyed. I haven’t seen anything like this in years.The climax is befitting and will leave many perplexed. It goes on to show us that we always believe what we choose to believe.
A Word about the 3D. 3D technology has been used in numerous films with great success. Be it movies like Avatar, Adventures of Tintin or the more recent The Amazing Spider-man and Ice Age 4, 3D is back in action and like never before but Ang Lee in Life Of Pi takes it to a whole new dimension. here the 3D is used more as a means to add an added dimension to the movie than a mere prop. The way water is portrayed as a thin and almost transparent film has never been seen before. the sequence involving the Meerkats on the floating island as also the scenes involving a giant whale and the contemplation of the two characters with themselves could not have been the same without the 3D. This is by the best usage of 3D ever.
The visual wizardry is in keeping with the rest of the departments of the film. Richard Parker is as real and ferocious as a Royal Bengal Tiger can be. Watch out for the scenes involving the Meerkats and one in which Pi and the tiger come up against a flock of flying fishes, truly Spectacular !!! The ensemble cast is top notch. Suraj Sharma is outstanding as Pi while Irrfan Khan is his usual brilliant self as the older Pi. Tabu and Adil Hussain do their parts.
The Life Of Pi is a celebration of the visual power and grandeur of cinema. Its shows us how to dream.If this is how Ang Lee dreams, I would want to share his dreams in a cryo sleep. It is a moving experience for the viewer and a staggering achievement for Lee. From here on our expectations will only rise if only we knew what more to expect. Watch it as if there was no tomorrow and watch it in 3D. I will be watching it a few times more at least.