A book or a movie takes you on new and exciting adventures. But, sometimes they also lead you through familiar labyrinths. For me, ‘Life of Pi' offered both.
I have a mental picture of Pondicherry, where I grew up in the ‘80s - wide open buildings in the Indo-French quarters, the view of the beach from the ashram, yellow limestone walls and the shady paths of the botanical gardens. ‘Life of Pi’ brought this image to screen so vividly that I was almost tempted to like the movie better than the book. The bharatnayam dance lessons brought a wave of nostalgia of similar experiences. I remember my mother reprimanding me when I made the Sign of the Cross gesture with 'In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' in a Hindu temple. Although I did not read Camus’ The Stranger until later in life, I went through the same existential angst of our teenage protagonist, Pi. When Pi enjoys the storm on the deck of the ship, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed running around in the rain.
‘Life of Pi’ is not only about the philosophical questions that Pi raises while growing up in Pondicherry, but also a story of survival. Survival of a ship-wrecked teenager stranded on a boat with a tiger named Richard Parker. This boy who believed that even animals had ‘souls’ had to find a practical way to not only stay alive at sea but also make sure that he is not devoured by a hungry tiger. Just like ‘Wilson’ provided the much-needed companionship in ‘Cast Away’, Richard Parker is subjected to conversations that help Pi stay hopeful and afloat.
It is not the interpretation of the book that Ang Lee has brought to screen but the nuances of dwelling deep into the characters. One example is the dinner table conversation between Pi and his parents about his interest in multiple religions. While his father points to him western rationale and power of medical science, his mother soft-spoken yet strong, points to the ONE who takes care of the inner self. It is a beautiful yet subtle depiction of Indian women of my mother’s generation. The soothing Tamil music, the ‘karthigai’ lamps on the water and the lovely shots of the beach mesmerized me blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. For those of you who grew up in India in the ‘80s or are from Pondicherry or in search of a soulful story, this is a must watch.