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The Many Attractions of Pi’s Life

India tourism office in Beijing did not even have a director till March this year. In fact, there was no need for one – outbound figures hovered around 50,000 accounting for a meagre 0.001 per cent of the global number. Now things have changed. No, it’s not that the office got a new head but ‘Life of Pi’ is out.

A castaway cause

Never so wide-eyed for 3D, I have so far only caught ‘Beowulf’ that too for Angelina, ‘Avatar’ and ‘Hugo’; never thought much about giving the miss to ‘Piranha’ for all its on-your-face lures, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and maybe ‘Monsters Vs. Aliens’. Then along came ‘Life of Pi’. Coming out of the cinemas on the second day, the bridge of my nose was swollen from gripping excitedly at the heavy 3D glasses: each time Ang Lee threw a stunner at me, I thought a little tweak would take me closer to the visual wizardry. My personal discomfitures were momentous – considering that they were global in nature.

Coming back to China, here alone it broke all box office records raking in $ 16 million the opening weekend itself. Bloggers took to Weibo, the Chinese Facebook, full force to laud the movie and exclaim wonder at the landscape. Or seascape. Many were astonished at the cultural diversity of India and the architectural marvels while most expressed deep desire to visit India. ‘India is the most beautiful travel destination in my heart,’ wrote Beautiful Carpenter, a popular blogger.

Discovering new sights

Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winning work came out over a decade ago, sold seven million copies and was loved by everybody for the quirk and the rich visual in the narration. Though many had wanted to adapt it to a movie none dared to. Coming in the way was not human capability but technological limitations. Advanced 3D cinematography, cutting edge CGI and motion-capture suits came in much later. All these along with tailor-made optical techniques and 3D illusion were all employed to full effect in ‘Pi’. Acclaimed critic Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun Times has proclaimed the movie ‘a miraculous achievement of storytelling’ and ‘one of the year’s best films’. Wary of 3D and giving me esteemed company, he gave a thumps up to Lee’s use of the technology to complement the story and not as a gimmick. “I’ve never seen the medium better employed, not even in ‘Avatar’ and although I continue to have doubts about it in general, Lee uses it to deepen the film’s sense of places and events – not for surprises or sensations.” Coming from Ebert, it is considered as a sure-shot entry into the Oscar list of ‘Best Special Effects’ category.

Life-changing loves

Most of the two-hour movie revolves around Pi, a 16-year-old boy adrift on the ocean in a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. So engrossed I was with the metaphysical tale that literally ebbed on flawlessly before me that Richard is a CGI product was soon forgotten. Pi – played with all the endearing rawness of a newboy – endures severe physical hardships, braves storms, battles self doubts and discovers faith by the time he finally bobs into Mexico – sunburnt cheeks, chaffed lips, frizzy hair et al. It strikes a chord on an ethereal level with most of us. And if you are into travelling, you will find a lot of your moments – which you have never shared with anybody, which you never really suspected happened – framed here. Richard Parker’s seemingly unmoving departure seemed evocative of the many heartrending adieus during our travels which we choose to downplay – for the many more, newer intimacies that await to be forged.

Many wonders to see

Movie over. Irrfan Khan, sporting a bopper coiffure, gists the movie with a goofy smile: You don’t know the strength of your faith until it is tested. Faith was tested, so was the power of the visual – which left everyone fawning. ‘Puducherry’ began trending; Wikipedia threw up umpteen searches on the dainty city’s French connection. Leading the search party was China which never before showed so much interest in matters of a non-military nature across the border. Visa queries were made in thousands at the embassy and consulates. One cannot comment with certainty on the degree of warmth with which they were responded to; most of the Indians believe that the luminous balls spotted across the border in Arunachal Pradesh are not UFOs but surveillance cameras on reconnaissance from China. While the neighbouring countries are well-versed in each others’ military precedents and capabilities, it is Pi which has opened the Chinese eyes (no pun, seriously) to the India beyond the uniformed border. And for us Indians, China was all about the Great Wall, quick limbs and well, small eyes. And the bad guys in the Tibet story.

Success is all about lessons from opportunities lost. Aamir Khan should have been made our tourism ambassador to China following the huge cross border success of ‘3 Idiots’. We didn’t. Now we should use Irrfan Khan – minus his bopper coiffure – to tell the Chinese that the Taj is here. Definitely Wangdu would have made a stronger connect than Pi in this case. Then, better late than never.

All images are courtesy of the movie website and Google.

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