Sahibzade Irrfan Ali Khan, aka Irrfan Khan (1967 – present)
Indian film and television actor
Recipient of the Padma Shri (2011), National Film Award for Best Actor | Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Filmfare Awards, Screen Actors Guild Award.
Films of Note: Salaam Bombay (1988), Ek Doctor ki Maut (1991), Kali Salwar (2002), Haasil (2003), Maqbool (2003), A Mighty Heart (2007), Life… In a Metro (2007), The Namesake (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 7 Khoon Maaf (2011), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Life of Pi (2012), The Lunchbox (2013), Qissa (2013), Haider (2014), Piku (2015), Jurassic World (2015),
TV: Bharat Ek Khoj (1988), Chanakya (1992), Chandrakanta (1994)
God does not test those who do not believe in Him. He only tests the extent of faith of those who do. While this lesson was easily understood to me even when I had read Yann Martel‘s Booker Prize-winning book during a train journey in 2006, the messages conveyed in Ang Lee‘s latest, Life of Pi, are still as simple and as profound.
Life of Pi is about an Indian boy growing up with his liberal parents (brilliantly portrayed by Adil Hussain and Tabu) and an older brother in a very well-depicted Pondicherry of the 70s. The family owns a zoo, but is forced to come to a decision to move to Canada when the political emergency is imposed. Carrying their animals aboard a Japanese vessel, the family is prepared to take the arduous journey across the Pacific Ocean. But a storm near the Marianna Trench wrecks the ship and only Pi (Suraj Sharma, quite good, but not just quite there yet) survives on a lifeboat, with a royal Bengal tiger, an orangutan, a hyena and a zebra. They rest of the tale weans through the 227 days that he is literally at sea – trying to get the better of his mates on the boat, seeking answers to his questions, understanding human nature and animal psychology as his survival instincts take over, and surrendering to the forces of nature and God.
Like all book-to-film adaptations, this movie too suffers from being able to bring the depth or the restlessness from inaction that one finds in Martel’s writing. But David Magee‘s script still captures the essence of Pi’s story very well. It’s just that while the book did make Pi’s mid-Pacific ordeal look 227 days long, the movie, restricted by the time-factor, has somehow not been able to do that as well. Pi’s physical transformation into an undernourished, unkempt shadow of his former self is the only proof of the time having gone by.
But be prepared to see the best visual effects ever as you rub your eyes to find anything that makes Richard Parker (the tiger) look anything but real. The emotions that Richard Parker’s eyes give away look so lifelike that I still have to keep telling myself that it was all CGI. Flying fish, whales, dolphins – all take your breath away. The fluroscence of marine life and the reflection of the night sky in the calm ocean waters is so breathtaking. The sun, the storms, the sunsets are all so marvellously done that it is impossible to believe that the sea is actually just a tank in an airport in Taiwan. The sky looks limitless, the horizon far, far away and Pi and his boat just a tiny speck in the vastness of the Pacific’s splendour. And even though you know that these aren’t real, you have to keep reminding yourself that they are just computer-generated. Overall, the 3D is spectacular. Ang Lee, with his immaculate mastery of the medium, proves once again why he is so deeply respected by his fraternity and by film lovers worldwide.
(My friend Arjun Tomar, who has match-moved Richard Parker’s scenes in the film, tells me that Lee is a stickler for detail and a task master. He also was nice enough to tell me about how certain scenes were done. His explanation involved geometry and computer lingo so I switched off almost immediately, but tried to look as interested as I could. But you’d be amazed to know that the colour of the water and even the sand on the coast of Mexico are fake!)
The background score by Mychael Danna is just as good especially in his use of Bombay Jayashri’s lovely vocals rendered in Tamil. The locations in Pondicherry are authentic and it is a relief to see a filmmaker who has done his research well enough to not make a mockery out of a story set in Pondicherry by mixing more popular Indian (read: Punjabi) cultural elements as portrayed by most films. But then again, one doesn’t become Ang Lee by discounting the important finer details.
Grown up Pi, played perfectly by Irrfan Khan, has a worldly-wise air about himself as he narrates his unbelievable tale. His story and the alternate, that he provides on being forced to, are essentially the same, but he challenges us, making us wonder how unwilling we are as human beings, to be able to believe in anything that is out of the ordinary. To be able to understand a symbiotic relationship between a boy and a tiger — both hungry, both fighting for survival against a third common adversary — is confounding to say the least. We forget that fact is often stranger than fiction. And unless we see, we do not believe; but we are more than ready to believe in God, whom we have never seen.
Piscine chose to call himself Pi. Was it fate or mere coincidence that his life began to reflect the same infiniteness? His faith in God was boundless (he followed Hindusim, Christianity and Islam, and later taught about Jewish culture and religion at the University), his entrapment in a limitless space for time that felt never ending — there are many such examples that come to mind as I sit and recall the story. Talking about them here would be giving out spoilers.
Watch the film. It is a visual and a spiritual treat that should not be missed.