Friday, November 30, 2012

Life of Pi

When a film claims itself to be "spiritual," I often subconsciously compare it with Dreyer's works, in particular Ordet. Belief in God is not some wild frenzy, whereas in Life of Pi it seems to be always the case with all stages of Pi Patel, except maybe that of a mellowed Irrfan Khan (and not to be able to place the pulse on this mellowing in the film's story is an irritant). Is it indeed a spiritual film, or simply a showcase of what all can be done with computers?

If only this can be done with computers, then I am very disappointed: because even on the level of visual imagery, I much prefer animation shorts like Hedgehog in the Fog or Father and Daughter, rather than this sequence of ocean storms that fail to touch and move. Probably, for those who can't get enough of India, since outside of documentaries focussing on poverty there is not much material, not as much as India deserves, it's still satisfying to get some of Pondicherry and Munnar: but, as an Indian viewer, I have seen India in a much more satisfying way in many other films. Nishabd's is a story rooted in Munnar's tea gardens: an organic part of the whole. Frozen creates poetry from humans and the snowy, Himalayan space surrounding them. Kisna sparkles with the freshness of Gangetic rivers and valleys. In contrast, Life of Pi is such an utter disappointment: it fails to catch not only the Indian atmosphere, but also the Indian landscapes. And fails miserably. In spite of fine actors all over (except Rafe Spall playing the writer).

The film's greatest gift is the discovery of a brilliant actor, Suraj Sharma, playing the lead role. It remains to be seen whether he can go on now to build a fine acting career, but in this film at least he has given a stunningly good performance. Irrfan Khan usually overacts these days, but surprisingly in this film he has not, and also looks good, as does Tabu. Depardieu is brilliant in such a short role, though I was quite bitter to find him for such a short time. Both boys playing Pi have also done a great job - a more difficult task, considering that good child actors are always in paucity. And, yet, it's a pity, that given such wealth, the film has gone nowhere: most importantly, in its argument, if it is trying to make one.

God isn't to be proved or disproved, pertinently not through miracles: especially when those miracles are created on a computer. The effect is like watching all those Santa Claus films with a Western teen audience, wherein the teens are enjoying the film as some 'fun', even if they poke fun at the Santa legend. The most crucial difference between Life of Pi and Ordet is that whereas in the latter it is the believer who is pushed out of society, a mad man, in the former it is the man standing for reason (Pi's father, well played by Adil Hussain) that is cornered: when this is done, inevitably Belief stands in the dock. And how can Truth ever defend itself? For defence itself means coming inside the ambit of Reason, means accepting the duality of white and black, true and false, whereas Truth lies not somewhere there.

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