He talks to Sandeep Hattangadi on his lead role in the English movie, based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel ‘Life of Pi’. Some excerpts.
You play Pi as an adult now living in Canada, many years after his extraordinary voyage with Richard Parker, the tiger. How did you portray him?
At this stage of his life, the older Pi is reflecting on the earlier part of life when he was exposed to so many things, even before he lost his family. He is looking back at his life-changing journey when his faith was tested. Pi is reflecting on what made him who he is, what really formed him and all the experiences he had when he was younger, which were so important and unique.
What do you think set Pi apart when he was a child?
As a boy, Pi was interesting because he was never conditioned by one set of values or one religion. It is far easier for people to follow one religion or tradition and become like sheep and keep on doing things the way they were taught to do them by their parents and others. But Pi wasn’t like that. He wanted to explore many traditions. Curiosity and questioning were instinctive for Pi. He was a natural explorer who was fascinated by life and he was very open. All that formed his character at a young age. When you do things which are not regular or normal as Pi did when he was a young boy, you are challenged, and you are tested. That is what happened to him. He went on a fascinating journey that took him into dangerous areas. He took risks.
How exactly, do you think, has Pi’s experience on his journey with Richard Parker affected him ?
A journey like the one Pi has experienced is minimised if you try to put it into words. Nothing changes in some ways. You keep on living life. But you get a different perspective on life and you find a new way of looking at things. That’s what changes. Pi would have been the same person from the outside; he would still have looked the same if he hadn’t lost his family and taken the journey with Richard Parker. He would have come to Canada and got a job as a teacher or a professor. But Pi is different because he understands life in a different way. He is much more enriched as a person.”
What were your views on Yann Martel’s book when you read it?
It is an excellent book, and will never become dated, and will resonate even after a thousand years. It is also a very clever book. The story is apparently about a boy and a tiger. But what you take from that story is up to you because it deals with so many things. It deals with innocence, faith and nature. It deals with so many complicated issues. The challenge for Ang and his team was to make it simple with all that complexity remaining underneath the surface. The way Ang has brought the book to the screen is amazing.
What was it like working with Ang Lee on the film?
I’m really fortunate that I got to work with Ang Lee. He is a wonderful filmmaker. It is fascinating as an actor to find a director who effectively has a whole world inside of him. Ang has a strong vision and he wants to bring that world and that vision to the audience. There are very few directors who put themselves in the line of fire as he does. He is one of those directors who do not separate the films they are making from their experience of life. He lives the movies he makes; he takes the journey along with Pi. Ang Lee makes the kind of film that will be remembered 50 years from now because of the subject matter and because of the brilliant way in which he tells the story.
What are your views of Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi as a young man?
He’s fantastic, he is excellent, he is endearing; he is beautiful. Suraj received a tremendous opportunity at a young age by getting this role. It was the first time he had acted. When I met him for the first time he had already been cast as Pi and I told him that your life will not remain the same after this film.