"Pi by Ivette Fred-Rivera
The Taiwan-born director Ang Lee works on a version of Yann Martel's award-winning novel with the same title, adapted by the American writer David Magee. Pi is Pi Patel, as a teenager played by Suraj Sharma and as an adult by Irrfan Khan.
The beginning of the movie The Life of Pi sets partially the premises of the narration: a pond, animals, birds, humans, interacting serenely in a natural setting. A mural displayed at the background, a very common element in the Indian landscape, reiterates this atmosphere. Indian landscape is one of the first things that capture our eyes, strikingly exuberant, shrubbery, trees, flowers, animals, green everywhere. On the left of the screen, we can see an image of god Ganesha, son of Hindu gods Shiva and Parvati, whose head is that of an elephant, showing the divine nature that animals can have in the Hindu pantheon. According to the very well known Shiva-Purâna, Parvati, Shiva's wife, was disturbed once by her husband who entered the house, even though she was taking her bath. The goddess felt annoyed, because she didn't have any personal servant to guard her door. So, she rub her body skin and, with the perfumed unguents obtained, she molded the shape of a glorious young boy. She granted him life and named him Ganesha, ordering that he should be on guard in front of her house. When the child intended to impede the great god Shiva to enter the house, he enraged. In the battle, Ganesha got his head cut off. Parvati was inconsolable by Ganesha’s loss. Unable to find the child head, Shiva grafted an elephant head on the dead body and gave him life again. Then he recognized Ganesha as his elder son. Ganesha is very loved, he is the god that removes all obstacles. The beginning of the movie seem to contrast with Herzog’s conception of nature as fearsome and terrible. But we still have not seen or imagined the storms that are to come. Pi will need all the help he can gather from Ganesha to survive.
The adult Pi narrates his story to an inquisitive author (Rafe Spall) who travels to India in search of stories to write as Western culture is exhausted from itself. As a teen, Pi and his family travelled by steamer from India to Canada, where his father hoped to restart his business as a zookeeper, and brought his zoo animals with him. Pi reminds his parents, and us, that Columbus was looking for India. A storm wrecks the ship, and finally Pi ends himself all alone on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger. They spent together 227 days at sea across the Pacific before being rescued.
"I was prepared for the first day of classes. I’m Pi", he explains about his school life in Pondicherry. Boys and girls are separated at classrooms. Pi is an irrational number. Never settles into a permanent repeating pattern, as the teenager Pi. Indian newspapers publish student’s high scores on national academic tests as a way of expressing national pride.
Religion was the only contact between Pi’s mother and her culture. "I knew Krishna first", explains Pi. Krishna contains the entire universe in his mouth. 'Animals have souls. I have seen them in their eyes', Pi says to his father. “Animals do not think. The tiger is not your friend. You are projecting your eyes on him ", the rationalist father responds emphatically. We have to be careful. Tigers are called 'big cats' but are not pets. Richard Parker is a digitally created Bengal tiger, though looks amazingly real. Who does not want this tiger in the garden?
The Bengal tiger has been classified as an endangered species since 2010. They inhabit in tropical and subtropical forests. It is the national animal of both India and Bangladesh, immensely beautiful. It has the colors we most associate with India, yellow to light orange, with stripes ranging from dark brown to black, and a white belly, showing the different skin shades of its people. The protagonist is the tiger. His first appearance is phenomenal.
Indians are very resilient people. Pi wants to know what happens, whatever it is. “Thank you for giving me my life”, he says during the storm. Watching in another previous scene the beautiful innocence in the eyes of Pi and Anandi –which I have seen so many times all over India– reminded me that the Delhi gang rape victim watched this movie just before being raped. She fought desperately for her life, but, very sadly, could not survive as Pi did.
'We have to let things go, but the worst is not being able to say goodbye. Appa was right. The tiger was not my friend. He did not look back to say goodbye.” But, Pi, remember, Richard Parker was in captivity from the very start. It was his time to be free.
The Japanese bureaucrats, who came to the hospital after Pi’s rescue to ask him about the ship wreckage, did not like Pi’s story, found it unbelievable, how the tiger did not eat him? It did not explain also why the ship sank, the technical reason involved. Pi invents a flat story and then asks them: ‘Which story do you believe: the fictional or the true one?’ Pi asks, in turn, the writer: ‘The one with no animals, no island, no carnivore islands? In both stories, my family dies, I suffer. Which one do you prefer? So it is the same with God’, Pi affirms. ‘It's an amazing story. The story has a happy ending’, answers the writer. 'It depends on you, The story is up to you now', says Pi.
I do not like the end. It should have ended when the tiger disappears on the island. This is a fatal error, it weakens the narrative. Although the idea of choosing between the stories illustrates the belief issue, it could have been presented more creatively. Pi equates believing in the story with the tiger with believing in god. The alternate story is so boring that no one will like it. So we become believers trivially.
Work on India is very hard. We, non-Indians, run the risk of being superficial, either demonizing or idealizing it. The cultural imaginary conceives India as the land of spirituality and magic realism. India is the last place to find god since it is the last place on earth that he will abandon. The majority of Indians are very good people. No other way is possible for us to see them. A very good Bengali friend in Kolkata once told me: “We are not that good, you see us better than we are”. “Through our gaze you may see your better self”, I insinuated.
I am surprised this movie has 11 Oscar nominations. This is excessive. Animal lovers should see it! Excellent visual effects, the tiger, the storms, and the music. In this respect, Philip French has expressed it marvellously: "The movie does for water and the sea what did Lawrence of Arabia for sand and desert.""