The journey of a backpacker, a typical 'secular Westerner', through India in the 1990s, has delivered to screens worldwide that most unusual of mainstream Hollywood films - one steeped in religion and deep spirituality.
That backpacker is Canadian author Yann Martel, who first
traveled to India in 1995 and spent a total of over a year in the country over three trips within a span of five years. The book that resulted was the Booker prize-winning Life Of Pi, the source material of the eponymous new release, helmed by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee.
Martel, who lives in Saskatoon in western Canada, is French-Canadian and mentions that in the province of Quebec "there's a visceral rejection of organised religion". But Life of Pi, the novel, and now the movie, are suffused with spirituality.
In an interview, Martel credited Lee with not shying away from a subject that's not particularly Hollywood fodder.
As he said, "Someone's who's never read the book would come see this movie and might suddenly say, 'Oh my God, is this some sort of weirdo evangelical movie? It's creeping me out.' Well I liked that Ang (Lee) didn't try to evade that. He tried to translate the religious content and did it like it was quite visually beautiful."
While Hindu tradition streams through the film, as with the book, the spiritual awakening of the shipwrecked young protagonist Piscine Molitor Patel, or Pi, can also be traced to India's pluralism, encompassing Islam and Christianity.
The film, which released in North America on Wednesday, has received mostly laudatory reviews. The author too, is pleased with how his novel has been translated to the screen: "It's visually wondrous, in many ways as original as the book."
He also has praise for the teenaged principal actor Suraj Sharma, who plays the young Pi with élan. Martel felt Sharma brought out the 'everymanness' of the character.
Though there were chances of his traveling to India for the opening of the film, those plans fell through.
Martel would like to return to India, as he said, "India's changed a lot since I was there. I'd love to see that, see what's been gained, what's been lost." But not in the near future, since he has two young children, with a third on the way.
Curiously, Martel originally went to India to attempt to write a novel set in Portugal, before Life Of Pi captured his imagination. Now, the author is busy completing that novel, The High Mountains of Portugal.
Writer is based in Toronto
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