Films | Life of Pi – Movie Review

Life of Pi – Movie Review

Posted by FATEMA H.KAGALWALA on November 23, 2012 | No Comments

PRODUCER – Ang Lee, Gil Netter, David Womark
WRITER – David Magee (Based on    Life of Pi by Yann Martel)
CAST – Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall
MUSIC – Mychael Danna

Much like the exploration of life and its questions, Ang Lee’s films are events in themselves. Life of Pi, with an all-international cast with two major roles being played by two of India’s best actors and set in a semi-magical landscape was a much-awaited film from the time of its announcement. With this film, the celebrated auteur director chooses to explore questions of faith, friendship and identity. And while doing so stretches the limits of the cinematic landscape even further.

Life of Pi is based on Yann Martel’s acclaimed book of the same name and charts the journey of a young boy Piscine Molitar Patel ‘Pi’ for short, as he spends 227 days shipwrecked and on a life-boat with a Bengal tiger, the first few also spent with a hyena, orang-utan and zebra for company. An older Pi recounts this story to a writer, also telling him of the other story he told the Japanese officials of the sunken ship, who refused to believe the one with the animals.

Pi discovers religion and his own relationship with it at a young age, exploring several faiths and cleaving to aspects of each. God is a firm and unshakeable entity for this sensitive, contemplative boy who is born and brought up in Pondicherry on a zoo run by his rational-thinking father and loving, supportive mother. His instincts about animal behaviour are shaped while quite young, some born out of his own ruminations and some by his father’s training. All of it comes together during the 227 days he spends at sea, shedding some of it and learning more. He develops a slowly growing relationship with the tiger called Richard Parker after constantly weighing his own emotions against brute animal instinct.

As much as Lee’s saga is about finding faith and exploring human limits, it is also about the animal identity and our relationship with it. Early on, the impressionable Pi trying to befriend the fierce tiger, claims that the animal has a soul too, which communicates through his eyes. His father tells him he is seeing his own emotions in those eyes. Later, when we see the older Pi still troubled about the abrupt end of his ‘friendship’ with Parker we wonder about the truth of this rational advice. Yet, when everyone, from the writer to the officials prefers his story with the animal, we question this very rationality. It is this rather tenuous thread of dichotomy that strings the theme.

To tell his story, Lee explores the cinematic landscape with a delicious flair that harnesses visual appeal and 3D beautifully. The enveloping depth of 3D only explored in Hugo till date, impresses itself on the narrative, especially when exploring the animal kingdom. Be it, the opening sequence or life at sea, all explode with an enchanting magical realism that pulls us right into its heart. The animal kingdom after all is at the centre of the film.

However, beyond the 3 D, the film seems underwhelming. The exploration of Pi’s faith, becomes a somewhat incomplete experience and whether it is the seemingly superficial tone of the narrative or the limited acting prowess of Suraj Sharma, the boy who plays the 16-yr old Pi, is a matter of debate. Hence, as much as the film may want it, our catharsis doesn’t lie in Pi’s affirmation of his faith. Yet, there is much grace and warmth in the narrative for us to oversee its somewhat unfinished nature.

This very grace and warmth it embodies is carried through with superb finesse by Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Adil Hussain. Such are their heart-felt and seamless performances that we manage to over-ride the somewhat uncomfortable experience of watching them speak in English with a local accent. Tabu, as is her most admirable quality, expresses multiple emotions with mere hints of emoting and Irrfan Khan, after taking us comfortable through the entire film, shows us in the climatic scene, why he is the best we have. Adil Hussain displays a masterful command over his character, completing a truly satisfying casting triumph.

Lif of Pi is imaginative and exploratory. It doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t know but it does tell it to us in a fashion we don’t get to watch often. And despite everything, that is an experience worth relishing.

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