<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall.
Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, which was said to be too difficult to translate into a movie, is here in vibrant 3D. Most have loved it probably because it’s cool to do so, but apart from some exquisite special effects I found it a bit slow, preachy and unimpressive as far as the story goes.
Here’s the thing about eagerly anticipated hyped movies. People feel obligated to like them and extol their life-changing virtues. Maybe some are easily impressed, perhaps some are afraid they’ll be shunned for resisting the majority point of view. I don’t really care. I didn’t really like Life of Pi. I’ve seen hundreds of films in the last 7 years and I just saw Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Twilight Saga) yesterday, which was – believe it or faint – much more entertaining than Life of Pi. And I hated most of the Twilight films.
Pi’s name didn’t originally come from the mathematical pi, which is rounded off to 3.14. His uncle, an avid swimmer, thought that he should be named after his favourite swimming pool that was called ‘Piscine Molitor’ Patel. In school this was unceremoniously turned into Pissin’ until a brainwave struck the young boy and he decided to memorise the full mathematical number of pi and display his genius to all the school thus earning him the nickname Pi and saving him considerable sums in counselling fees later in life.
Pi’s (Suraj Sharma) father Santosh (Adil Hussain), his mother Gita (Tabu) and brother Ravi (Vibish Sivakumar) all live in Pondicherry on their government granted property where they’ve created a small zoo for the town. How do we know all this and more? Because the film starts off with Irrfan Khan as the old and worn out looking Pi telling his tale to a desperate writer (Rafe Spall) in need of a killer story, and apparently willing to believe anything. Unfortunately, says Irrfan, his family had to uproot and leave India and set sail for Canada with their entire menagerie of animals in the cargo hold. His dad gets into a scuffle with a rowdy chef (Gerard Depardieu) since he won’t serve vegetarian food to his wife and the family ends up eating plain rice. Oh and director Ang Lee makes a walk on appearance in this scene aided by the fact that it is a Japanese freighter. Oh well, fate and God have other plans and the ship capsizes with Pi’s entire family in tow. He survives on a life raft with a zebra, an orang-utan and a Bengal Tiger. Oh and a laughing hyena. Hmmm…
The hyena eats the zebra and the orang-utan and the tiger eats the hyena. Then only young Pi is left to fend off the tiger and try and survive in the middle of the ocean in some very beautiful scenes of water and sky merging to form a most idyllic utopia or perhaps it’s more like limbo for the two unlikely companions. Now the first half goes about showing us the whole solid backstory and the second half is about the castaways. Actually, it sorta reminded me of the film Castaway with Tom Hanks. And I can’t help thinking that Tom and his lack of dialogue in that film was so much more poignant and interesting than Suraj Sharma in his politically incorrect Indian accent trying to witty. That only ends up making scenes in the film that should be scary or put you on edge, simply funny.
There are some very striking visuals of course, like starlit skies reflecting upon a clear ocean making it appear as if the lifeboat were suspended in a backdrop of stars. Surreal visuals abound like glowing jelly fish lighting up the ocean floor, flying fish rampaging through the air, a whale circling and then emerging gloriously from the ocean and a very strange Meerkat-infested man-eating island.
The actual sequences between the boy Pi and the tiger lack any emotional depth or connect. Yes the tiger, CGI, looks as real as they get if that’s what you’re going to see. But I’ve seen better CGI and frankly even 3D.
The parts between Irrfan Khan and the writer are the most pedantic and simply take away from the visual spectacle. Irrfan may be international now but really, he can’t speak English to save his life and please Hollywood we have other actors here who can do a better job and still manage to look ‘Indian’. The whole ending of this film with its alternative story (that the tiger may be a metaphor) don’t make any sense. Suraj Sharma’s little monologue to the Japanese insurance agents is just grating on the nerves with his horrible accent and lacklustre story telling ability.
At the end you sort of get the impression that all this is about is telling you that God is more acceptable with embellishment and you need a cock-and-bull story to prove to people that God really exists. I think the alternative story (with humans who could have been the animals in the lifeboat struggling for survival) would have been far more interesting to watch.
PS: 99 per cent of the people who watched this film liked/loved it so go ahead and see it. Just proves why this site’s name is ‘Minority’ Review I guess!