Archive for November, 2012

Wouldn’t it be very boring if we all start liking the same things – no arguments, no fights. And that’s the beauty of  cinema – a divided house, because it means different things to different people. So while i wasn’t sure about the “faith” factor in this week’s release, Life Of Pi, here’s a post by Suprateek Chatterjee who thinks otherwise – have faith, will sail.

A software engineer by degree, Suprateek is passionate about cinema as well as music, and on weekends, can be found writing, composing and playing new music for his electro-rock band Vega Massive. He harbours a strong dislike for pretentious attitudes, Salman Khan fans and Andheri station. Currently at Hindustan Times as features writer/film critic.

Until the age of ten, I used to be quite religious. More than religion, it was mythology that fascinated me. C Rajagopalchari’s versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata occupied a place of pride on my bookshelf, next to my prized Enid Blytons, Hardy Boys and R L Stine’s Fear Street series. I had another book, Tales From The Bible, part of my Catechism/Moral Science curriculum in Don Bosco School, Delhi, where I studied for four years. I was fascinated by the stories, wildly improbable as they seem now, and would often characterise myself according to them.

Alas, I eventually grew up and turned to atheism. However, while the myth stopped appealing to me, the stories didn’t. Over the years, I realised that a part of being religious is accepting a myth blindly, no matter how incredible it sounds. It doesn’t make you smarter or stupider – or better or worse – to give yourself to the myth, and take back the right lessons (whatever those may be).

I read Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi nearly nine years ago and have been waiting dying to watch a cinematic version since. The fact that it was supposedly ‘unfilmable’ (I don’t think I ever agreed with that) only added to the charm, given that past cine-adaptations of unfilmable novels have included stellar films such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘Lolita’ and ‘American Psycho’, amongst many others.

I watched Ang Lee’s version last Tuesday at a press screening and was stunned. To me, this is the best film version of the novel that could’ve been made. The visuals were stunning and usage of 3D, to me, the best ever – it somehow felt more necessary here than it did even in ‘Avatar’, to convey that feeling of loneliness and intimacy, not to mention the stunning CGI and creature effects. Richard Parker, the part-live-action, part-CGI tiger, is a creation of genius, and goes right up there with Gollum in the category of Non-Human Characters That Deserve All Kinds Of Accolades. The sequence where a helpless Pi spreads his arms heavenward in the face of a raging storm, screaming, “I give myself to you, God!” stands out as one of the most powerful sequences in recent memory. And, of course, that little sequence depicting Pi’s hallucinations when he’s almost lost hope is surely our generation’s version of the Jupiter and Beyond sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. If there were an award for The Trippiest Shit Ever Put On Film, this sequence would surely be a strong contender.

I’m not saying I loved everything about the film. David Magee’s screenplay was slightly patchy and hurriedly put together – I agree with CilemaSnob only on that count, that one doesn’t entirely get the sense of Pi having spent 227 days out at sea. Also, that short minute-and-a-half appearance of Pi’s uncle, who named him, has got to be the worst Peter Sellers impression of all time.

That said, a lot of people have been criticising the accents in the film, particularly how Irrfan, the older Pi, and Sharma, the younger one, don’t sound like they speak the same way. How people have come to this conclusion (without being armed with a degree in linguistics, might I add) is beyond me. The older Pi has stayed in Canada for 20 years, but clearly within an Indian community. If we must nitpick about accents, why should we assume that Irrfan’s mostly-Indian-with-a-few-random-Canadian-inflections accent is inauthentic? After all, accents have no set patterns – I have a friend who went to the States for a year and came back with a strong accent and an uncle who has lived in the UK for 40 years and sounds like a Kolkata Bengali trying to put on a slight British accent. Isn’t this just our inherent bias of trying to look for flaws because we’re so sensitive about how Indians are being portrayed by Hollywood, as though Hollywood is aces at portraying everyone else accurately? One justification for this argument goes: “How come our actors can’t pull off accents as well as theirs can?” The answer, of course, is “That statement is bollocks, unless one’s name is Christian Bale,” as this article and this article will show you.

As for the central complaint, about why a story that claims to make one believe in God doesn’t leave you feeling any different, all I can say is, somewhere Yann Martel and Ang Lee are snickering to themselves over a drink and saying, “Gotcha!” Were you really expecting your carefully-constructed belief system, built up over at least a couple of decades, to be shaken by a two-and-a-half hour film? Life Of Pi is not a story about God or religion – it is a well-disguised critique, or should I say an analysis, of how faith affects us. The concept of the myth, religion’s greatest tool, forms the basis for the central act of Life Of Pi. The alternate storyline, revealed at the end, is probably the true version of events, but does that matter? Ultimately, the story is all about faith: Pi’s faith in his many Gods, his faith in his ability to survive, his faith in the story he tells and our faith in his journey.

Irrfan’s Pi asks the writer, “Which of the two is a better story?” Martel and Lee seem to be asking us a similar question: “Between religion and its sometimes-incredible myths, and atheism and its rationalised outlook, which do you prefer?” Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the answer is immaterial; what they’re really asking us is, “Do you like good stories or do you like great stories?”

With my family’s growing concern over my bad health in the last few months, they consulted an astrologer without informing me anything. And when i was finally forced to meet the Astrologer, he carefully studied all the possible lines and marks of my both hands, and among many others things, he warned me against stomach ailments and problems in lower regions of the body. Not sure if he had already figured about my stomach ailment from any of my family members as am having one since last few months. Anyway, it’s an easy guess with bongs.  But he was right about it. About the lower region, well, he just proved himself right again in the last three days as i went through severe waist pain because of a muscle pull, and somehow survived the worst day of my life. Because after injections and medicines, when getting up from bed, sitting on chair and walking feels like greatest achievements of the day, you know it cant get worse than that.

Even as i am joking now that hopefully his prediction doesn’t get any further “lower” as far as my body is concerned, am seriously confused whether to believe him or not. Pain, suffering, loss, danger – they always make us question faith, and sometimes, when there’s no solution in sight, you want to believe anything, at least for the moment, as long as it’s going to make your life easy.

Now, imagine this – you are stuck on a boat with a Royal Bengal Tiger in the middle of an ocean. As scary as that sounds, it’s equally exciting and fascinating if someone starts telling the story by assuring you in the beginning that the person on the boat survives. Or better – the person who survives, he is telling the story. That’s the basic premise of Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi, based on a novel of the same name by Yann Martel. The question now is HOW?

Ang Lee excels in translating this “how” into a gorgeous journey. Like me, if you are a fan of Ang Lee and have seen all his films, you must be following every detail about Life Of Pi. In almost every interview he has confessed that how he was completely enamoured by India’s religious and spiritual collage. And that’s what he tried in the film too – a spiritual journey packed into an adventurous ride. For me, this is where the film fails to connect. It doesn’t go beyond the surface, beyond what you see on screen, beyond the adventure and the exquisite frames. Everything looks fine and so i wasn’t sure what exactly was missing. Something which Terrence Malick translates on screen with those lens flares, hushed voice overs, flickering sunlight and flowing curtains. He holds your hand and makes you part of that “meditative” journey – a rare cinematic space. I was all ready to make that connect with Life Of Pi but it never happened. And when the core of the film doesn’t connect, you start looking at other minor issues – weird accents, stilted dialogues, shifting voice overs. Though i have made peace with the fact that desis speaking English on screen will never look good. But, as was the case with Slumdog Millionaire, when the film speaks to you, it’s easy to overlook other things even when it’s a bollywood masala packed well by a Brit filmmaker.

And am not talking about faith in terms of God or any specific religion here. Though the film prepares the ground for it in the first 20minutes, and in the end too. It’s more in terms of nothingness or illusion as he describes in this interview. For me, another interesting aspect that always gets my attention are the books the characters read in films. I always make sure to notice the titles. You see Pi reading Camus and Dostoevsky at such an early age but somehow the dots between life, death and philosophy doesn’t connect. It feels quite vacuous in that sense. As Andre O’Hehir compares it to Cloud Atlas and calls them “spiritual pretensions” in this review.

The other big question of the film is which story do you believe? I read the book long back. I started reading it again but could hardly read some 40 pages and then saw the film. I might be wrong here but i think the film completely undermines the second story starting from the opening credit roll which is completely in synch with the core of the film – the balance in nature – between prey and predator. I haven’t seen a better opening credit roll this year (Skyfall should be close second) – it’s so simple and so deadly gorgeous that i could kiss it. The second story would make it dark and with so much money at stake, i doubt any studio would like to explore that. So there’s just one scene in the film that connects to that second story. Does the book have more? If you remember, do comment.

Another question that came to my mind after watching the film was how many days he spends with the Tiger? It seems like few weeks. But the correct answer is 227 days! So why doesn’t it feel 227? or did you? Too much of adventure packed in because they need to sell the tickets, and too less of “nothingness”. Make everything look gorgeous, keep them hooked to the seats, let the spectacle sell. Where was the frustration of spending so many days on a boat in the middle of an ocean with a Tiger for company? And it forced me to compare the film with Cast Away. The more i think about both the films, the more i feel i can spend more time with Tom Hanks. Though Hanks’ journey was  quite boring compared to Pi’s. But even without stating and underlining every thought with voice-over, Hanks’ story is more meditative, more at peace, more frustrating. Pi is just too much beauty to handle. But do go and watch Life Of Pi because Parker alone is worth the ticket price, and it makes you believe in the magic of cinema and its immense possibilities.

– Posted by @CilemSnob