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?”