It almost seemed like an Indian Night when the Dubai International Film Festival opened last evening with Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yan Martel’s Man Booker winning novel, Life of Pi.
The young Indian actor, Suraj Sharma, who plays the movie’s hero, Pi himself, along with his love interest on the screen, Shravanthi Sainath, walked the Red Carpet, adding a dash of glamour to the evening’s celebration that was replete with fireworks and a party, where DJs crooned some of the most popular English hits. What seemed conspicuous by their absence were Indian film songs.
Also adding to the India glitz was Slumdog Millionaire actress, Frieda Pinto, who is part of the shorts jury, headed by Screen’s Chief Film Critic, Mark Adams. Though Indian actor, Adil Hussain, who essays Pi’s father in Lee’s work, was also on the Red Carpet, the absence of Irrfan Khan (older Pi), Tabu (Pi’s mother) and Lee himself could not but be noticed.
Although Life of Pi premiered at the recent International Film Festival of India in Goa, Dubai decided to slot in on the opening night, and the reason became apparent when one heard what Abdulhamid Juma, Festival Chairman, had to say. “Life of Pi is a movie that truly epitomises the ethos of our Festival’s ‘Bridging the Cultures’ mandate. Shot in India, Canada and Taiwan, the epic 3D adventure follows young Pi in a breathtaking debut performance. Life of Pi is a perfect multi-dimensional and multi-cultural masterpiece to mark the opening of the ninth edition of the Festival”, Juma felt.
Sharma told the evening’s gathering that Life of Pi was a universal story that would resonate well with audiences the world over.
Indeed so. Lee had taken care to craft his work in a way that it appealed to all, digressing, in the process, from Martel’s book in several places. Lee and the scriptwriter have not included some of the scenes in Martel’s novel. Blood and gore have been given a miss, and the killings on the boat as it drifts on the Pacific Ocean have been handled with sanitized gloves. We hardly see any blood when, for instance, the tiger kills the hyena, or earlier when the hyena eats the zebra. One writer said these scenes reminded him of the very early Disney works.
Whatever it be, Life of Pi to me seemed a trifle too flat, trying to float between high adventure and human morals like concern for the animal (see the way Pi helps the Royal Bengal Tiger get back on to the boat after it jumps off, and the manner in which he strokes the faintish animal as it lays starving, bereft of food and water). The result, I was left feeling with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction.
While I could not help comparing Life of Pi with Titanic, which, to me, was not only incredibly spectacular, but also immensely touching and warm. Beyond the tragedy of the night that plays out on deceptively calms waters which hid killer icebergs, Titanic told us a moving tale of class barriers (the utterly cruelty of it all) and purely innocent love. Somewhere, Lee’s Pi did not touch my heart, and one important reason could be that the movie fails to capture the spirituality of Martel’s words, nay the spirit itself.
I suppose this is what happens when one wants to take everyone on the boat.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the 9th Dubai International Film Festival.)