In a boat with an adult Bengal Tiger

Three nights ago, I watched the Life of Pi movie.

In preparation for it, I read a bunch of reviews, whatever I could find online. One of them (Vulture) called it ‘transcendent’, another said it was ‘not long enough’ and yet another applauded the stunning visuals and noted that Ang Lee, celebrated director of Oscar winning films, had outdone himself. None made too much mention of the actors or the effectiveness with which Martel’s story had been translated on screen. I’ll make that my business then.

And just to get it out of the way- yes, the film is beautiful. It is spectacular, in the true sense of the word. There were so many moments at which I thought Ang Lee couldn’t possibly do better, only to be proved wrong within the next 15 minutes. It is visually probably the most lovely film you will ever see.

(The actual sinking of the ship and one shot within a swimming pool impressed me in particular.)

Though he is by no means the focus of the film (no actor is, really), Suraj Sharma does a wonderful job. It was so heartening to see that a first time teenage actor can be GOOD, that not all of them are cut of the cloth that made Kristin Stewart or Alia Bhatt. He was innocent and troubled when he needed to be, angst ridden and drained at other times, and overall, gave no indication that half the time, he was all alone in the filming sequence. He LOOKED like there was a tiger with him at all times, giving greater reality to the CG animal.

But again, like I said, the movie was certainly not actor-reliant. What propelled it was the overall cinematography. They could have cast any newcomer in the role, and if he had done a half-decent job, it would have worked. Kudos to Suraj for doing a more than half decent job.

The story- like I said earlier, when I read the book, I didn’t really ‘get’ it. The impact of that statement ‘When you look into an animal’s eyes, you see only the reflection of what you feel’, didn’t hit  me at all. In the movie however, there is a particular sequence that brings it out beautifully and vividly. I’m not going to spoiler it for you and tell you which one- but sufficeth to say that that was my favourite, favourite sequence of them all.

Richard Parker was amazingly lifelike. The friend I watched the movie with turned around at one point and asked ‘How did they train a tiger to DO all that?’. He didn’t even realize it was a CG device! While some may laugh at his naivete, I choose to look at it as a comment on the incredible richness and perfection of the CG animals in this movie. There was never a moment at which Richard Parker wasn’t moving or making a sound that a real Bengal Tiger wouldn’t have made. From little purrs to hacking roars to deep-throated growls, Richard Parker, or his supervising team, delivered.

The movie left me feeling curiously adrift and thoughtful, much like Pi was for most of its 125 minute length. It neither confirms nor denies the assertion that Pi’s father makes somewhere near the beginning, that animals do not have souls. Richard Parker is there for Pi at the most trying moment of his life, and without him, or whatever he represents, Pi would certainly not have survived. At the same time, you are never led to think of him as anything OTHER than a Bengal Tiger, a dangerous animal that you cannot turn your back on without great risk. He is not a pet, not a dog who will feel something like gratitude and look after you in turn. No, Richard Parker is a beast of the jungle, and he will never let you forget that.

‘Life of Pi’ is definitely a movie worth watching, and worth watching well, on the big-screen in 3D. Whether it’s the childish pleasure derived from watching flying fish nearly hit you, to appreciating the pure beauty of a whale breaking the ocean surface (and causing Pi to lose most of his provisions in the process), every image demands star treatment. It caters to everyone- those who want to be jolted into thinking about the deeper questions of the meaning of life, and those who just want to watch a good seafaring/adventure tale. Go see it, if you haven’t already.

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