Based on Yann Martel's bestselling "unfilmable" book, Ang Lee's Life of Pi is perhaps the most advanced adaptation of any literary work. For everyone who has read the book, the film is not a barricade to imagination, but a near-perfect transcription of words to screen. The primary hook is the 3D which pulls you into what is perhaps the most terrific story you have ever willingly believed.
Life of Pi is, as the title suggests, the story of Pi Patel who is born in Pondicherry to a zoo keeper. The unusual childhood with an unusual name comes to an end when the family decides to move to Canada for a better future. Pi, therefore, finds himself along with all the animals from their zoo and his family on a Japanese freighter. The ship sinks in a storm in the Mariana trench and Pi survives the disaster alone and finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with a Zebra, an Orangutan, a Hyena and a massive Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Thrust into adventure and a battle for survival, Pi finds more answers to life in the 23 days of isolation than he did in his quest for answers in his entire childhood. Having survived the journey, Pi is a different person with a brand new perspective on life, death and all that it contains.
The story is narrated by a grown up Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a writer. On one level, the entire journey that seems extremely incredible and unbelievable appears true for the visuals that depict the story throughout the film, and are by far the best we have seen on screen. Ang Lee's technical proficiency is seen in every single frame and the film is by far the best 3D experience one can have. It is hard to distinguish shots with real animals from the ones with their digital renditions which must have made it hard to convince animal rights activists that none were harmed.
Claudio Miranda's hold over the cinematography, especially the camera movements in 3D and the composition of shots is exquisite. Come to think of it, for most part of the film, the frame only has water, a boat, a man and a tiger. To keep the audience gripped is quite a challenge. That challenge was unarguably made easier with a little help from the music composer Mychael Danna. Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi in the journey has great screen presence and drives the narrative forward while you are busy witnessing the powerful imagery. On the other hand, Irrfan Khan, the narrator and the Pi of the present, has made hay of all the screen time he has and helps you through the end with an incredible monologue of sorts.
In the film, Pi claims that his story would bring the listener closer to god. If you believe in god, or whatever it is that you believe has superior power over the universe, you will not disagree. The final twist in the plot where this entire journey is seen with a different perspective of the same person who first told it, is a groundbreaking thought for all story-tellers of our time. The emotion of the survivor about the outcome of the journey being the same, no matter how it happened, makes you question a lot of things.
What this film can boast about is that it makes you think about how you have lived thus far and how you want to live here onwards. Very few films and works of art in general, have the capability of becoming a milestone, a landmark by which your life is measured on a before-after scale. Life of Pi is one of those films.
Rating - 4 out of 5
Published in DNA After Hrs (Pune) on November 25, 2012