Training, training and training! Delhi University student Suraj Sharma swam for hours, worked on his body and his dialect and even had rats run all over him to prepare for his role in Oscar-winning director Ang Lee's adventure film Life of Pi.
For the 19-year-old second year student of Philosophy (Hons) at St Stephen's College, working in the film, based on Yann Martel's Booker Prize winning book, has been life-changing.
"There was a lot of training. There was acting training with Ang Lee...he used to give me certain scripts to read with him. As I had to get accustomed to that period, I had to watch a lot of movies of the 1960s and 1970s; I read a lot of books and there was dialect training too," Suraj told IANS in an exclusive interview.
"I also had to learn how to swim. I used to swim for four to five hours until I was completely comfortable with the water. There were a lot of workout sessions too because I had to gain weight first and then, as the shooting happened, I had to lose weight. I had trained with rats and had them run over me. It was a lot of fun. I was enjoying each and everything," he added.
Suraj was just 16 when Lee signed him for the big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel. After three years, the film is complete and "being a part of the film has been a life-changing experience", he said.
"It has really changed me and how I perceive the entire world in many ways."
"People say that I have grown up personally after this film. Like, I went there as a 16-year-old boy. Now, sometimes I feel like I am 40 years old and my perception about the world has changed completely.
"Earlier, I used to live in my own little shell and everything was small. Now I have realised that the world is this open place with opportunities. Now I know how to deal with situations in a better way and I can work five times harder without it affecting me because I have already worked like that. I've just become more ready for things," he added.
Acting was luck by chance for Suraj. It was his younger brother who went to audition for the role and took Suraj along. Little did Suraj know that he would end up auditioning for it himself and bag the role.
The story of the film revolves round a teenage boy, who is forced to survive on a lifeboat with a tiger after the ship he was travelling in sinks.
Interestingly, Suraj never had to shoot with a tiger.
Asked how he managed to give the shots with tiger, Suraj told IANS, "...I never acted with a tiger. Ang used to give me an eyeline as in where the tiger would be and how it would move at that point of time; so I used to imagine that in my head and give the shot."
"Moreover, the way Ang talks to you, it never feels that you are acting, everything automatically seems real," added the youngster, looking relaxed in jeans and a T-shirt.
Though the film is complete and is due to hit the screens soon, Suraj says the feeling is yet to sink in.
"I really don't know what to expect. It has not yet sunk in. And the story is such that everybody can come up with their own interpretations because it's open-ended in the end. I just hope that when people leave the hall, they'll feel inspired. I have really put in a lot of me into this," he said.
Suraj is unsure if he would like to act again, and is now focussing on his studies."I don't know whether I am doing more movies or not, though I know I like acting. First it's college."