|Enviable viewers in Paris|
Many people have been looking forward to Life of Pi in 2012, and there were several reasons for them to do so. It's the filmatization of a famous novel that was called "unfilmable" (as was the case with A Clockwork Orange and many others), it marked the return of one of the most acclaimed contemporary film-makers, Ang Lee, whose last success of Brokeback Mountain happened 7 years ago (although I did like Taking Woodstock). And, not to forget, it seemed to fit into one of the most popular genres of the time - that philosophic, "deep" one - while promising to revive a technology-gimmick that has been discussed much lately.
My primary reason to be excited about Life of Pi was none of these though; it was the Indian factor. Indian background, Indian actors and, as I hoped, Indian soul. All of this despite the fact that Irrfan Khan was again typecast - he's a magnificent actor (although he's offered much more challenging roles in India than in Hollywood), but I'd also like to see someone else for a change.
Anyhow; I can't say I was disappointed by Life of Pi. After all, what I was hoping for was what I got. Still, I've been asking myself some questions after having watched the film, and this is where I'd like to try and answer them as well as I can.
1: Will Life of Pi revolutionize 3D-cinema?
What I can say for sure already is that the film included some of the most beautiful and breath-taking cinematography that I've seen in the last years. All the imagination and creativity that went into the visual direction of the movie is amazing. And yes, the 3D-technology does underline this and makes the film an even more magical experience for its audience. I don't know whether any of you has ever seen one of those Indian animation films, often centered around religious stories? Well, I haven't seen any either, but parts of them, and they're nothing against many scenes in Life of Pi. There's one particular scene in which Pi looks at a religious comic about Krishna (a blue-skinned incarnation of another God, Vishnu), where Krishna's mother sees the whole universe in her son's mouth. The way the film makes this scene come true is something I've never seen before. The most special way in which the makers shows off their visual skills are the water scenes though. Shots from beneath the surface to the sky, or from the sky through the surface, people seemingly floating in space... that was something I had never seen anywhere before.
When I asked this question, I could also have been asking "Was Life of Pi just as breathtaking (visually) as Avatar, or even better?", and that question I can easily answer with a "Yes". Yes, the film startled me and left me with my mouth open many a time, so it definitely used 3D in the best way possible right now. Revolution is maybe too big a word, but I'm sure Life of Pi will inspire many future films visually - 3D and non-3D.
2: Can Life of Pi be for India what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was for China?
What I mean is that Crouching Tiger triggered a wide interest in Chinese cinema and actors (well, as wide as it can be for Hollywood), and many or some people watch Chinese movies now from time to time. It's just become more "normal" to watch Chinese or Asian movies. However, by Asian movies I mean films with people that look the way we imagine Asian people look. And that often doesn't include Indians. Indians are just different - actually they often look quite European except for the skin colour, and I've read many books on how the first Indians came to, well, India.
Many people still think that Indian films are all about kitsch, bright colours, song-and-dance; grand escapist love stories. I haven't even been able to convince my friends of the opposite - because they don't want to see other Indian movies. They really want these grand kitsch epics. And that's kind of okay with me, I would just like to see some more acceptance and at least attention to the new Indian Cinema. Even the old. Because these films are often quite different from the 1990s' and start-of-the-millenium ones. Of course, it's also partly India's fault. The Cannes documentary was - as I hear - just a celebration of that classical Bollywood-image. Not to speak of the complete ignorance towards regional Indian cinema such as Telugu movies, Tamil movies, Marathi movies... Okay, Bengali cinema has been more known due to Sathyajit Ray and some others. But that's really all there is.
Anyhow, I think I should stop my lamenting here and try to answer the question. Well, I don't think that Life of Pi is going to have an immediate and "perfect" impact on the image of India and Indian cinema in our hemisphere. But surely, things are going to change with the time. At least India itself didn't loathe the film as was the case with Slumdog Millionaire (which I personally prefer to Life of Pi).
3: Is Life of Pi award (Oscar) material?
The main reason I'm asking myself this is because the film reminds me of Avatar a lot. Surely, it has a very different message and wasn't as violent as that one, but nevertheless my opinion on it is quite similar: it's breathtaking and inspiring - yet foreseeable. It's visually awesome and has some great use of CGI. It's really entertaining. It has a bonus for being exotic.
Also, Life of Pi is nominated for 11 Oscars, while Avatar was nominated for 9. That's not such a big difference. So it could end up winning only two or three (such as Avatar) from the smaller categories.
My prediction: I'm quite certain it will win Cinematography, but there are some strong contenders in the other categories (especially Visual Effects)... so that's all I can say. I'm not sure whether the Academy is going to honour a film such as this. It's really hit-or-miss, I think... so we'll see. Perhaps today's Golden Globes are going to put things a little more into perspective.
Life of Pi is an enjoyable and inspiring cinematic experience, however I didn't like everything about it. The message was all right, I mean it doesn't force you to believe in God, but I felt it was long-drawn at times. Well, only the future will show whether this is a movie stays in the hearts and minds of the audience.