If you enjoy books adapted to film, then you will probably enjoy the film “Life of Pi”. It was based on a book by the same name and was released in 2012. Now it is streaming online at various sites.
For me, part of enjoying a film is knowing some of the “behind the scenes” entertainment history and trivia; especially, information about the casting decisions. For example:
- Who decided to choose an unknown Indian teenager and cast him in the starring role?
Wouldn’t you like to know? Well here’s the scoop.
- Ang Lee chose Suraj Sharma, an unknown teenage Indian actor to portray Pi Patel, in the film adaptation of the novel, “Life of Pi”.
Suraj Sharma played the character Pi as a young boy. The late Irraf Kahn (1967-2020), a well-known Indian actor, was cast in the role of the adult Pi.
When one hears the name “Ang Lee”, the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” almost immediately comes to mind. But most people know that Ang Lee is an award-winning contemporary filmmaker who has garnered international recognition, with an impressive filmography resume. Ang Lee is a Taiwanese-American director, producer, writer and more, with over 60 film titles to his credit. So it’s understandable that there was a flurry of buzz and excitement when his fans learned that he would direct “Life of Pi”.
As briefly mentioned, Ang Lee’s film project, “Life of Pi”, is based on a best selling novel by the same name written by Yann Martel. The Man Booker Prize is considered the world’s most important literary award. Each year, it endorses the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book. Yann Martel’s book won this award in 2002. Life of Pi has a simple storyline. Pi Patel, a teenage boy, survives a shipwreck and is left on a small boat with a tiger.
Perhaps the part about the tiger makes it a little less simple. Conveniently, Pi happens to possess a comprehensive detailed knowledge of animal behavior and an ardent love of stories, which are all the life skills he needs to survive 227 days at sea with a 450-pound Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.
With this fantasy adventure, Canadian author Yann Martel proved his worth as a master story teller; and Ang Lee proved he had the ability to capture this vivid and thought-provoking tale on film.
For Ang Lee to take notice is extremely high praise for anyone’s written work. Yann Martel was no doubt humbled, honored and ecstatic that the brilliant Ang Lee brought his novel to the screen.
For Ang Lee to cast you – an unknown, a newcomer – to play the leading part in his film adaptation of an award-winning novel – is surely a dream come true for any aspiring actor. Particularly an actor, with no acting experience.
- Suraj Sharma was 17 years old, an Indian actor and student from New Delhi, who beat out more than 3,000 challengers.
After a worldwide casting search for the “perfect Pi”, Suraj Sharma was selected to play the role of the teenaged Pi, the zookeeper’s son. How did he do it? How did Suraj Sharma manage to catch the eye of Ang Lee? According to Mr. Lee, it was his eyes. Mr. Lee was quoted as having said: Sharma has a natural talent to convey emotions through his eyes.
Apart from expressive eyes, what does Suraj Sharma have? Below are a few biographical facts about Suraj Sharma:
The name “Suraj” is Hindi meaning “sun”. His surname is a common name for many Hindu Indians. Suraj Sharma’s parents are both mathematicians in Delhi.
Before being chosen to play the lead role in “Life of Pi”, he was just your average teenager, a Class XII humanities student of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, who enjoyed playing practical jokes.
He dumped his first girlfriend (according to his girlfriend) after making all kinds of promises to include her in his rise to stardom, fame, and fortune.
For the audition, Suraj Sharma read out the ‘Survival Manual’ from Chapter 58 of the book. A little background info: In Chapter 58 of the novel by Yann Martel, the Manual is included with the lifeboat supplies. Even though Pi is beginning to despair because it appears his situation is hopeless, he nevertheless determines that practical advice contained in the book is what he will need to keep himself alive, i.e. to survive. Therefore, he must read it.
And read it, he did! Not just with his lips but with his eyes, winning the approval of Ang Lee and his casting crew.
· Suraj is very photogenic. Pi had to be a teenaged boy of “medium complexion”, a “fairly well-developed physique”, say between 5’6” and 6’ tall. He had to not only act the part of Pi, but look the part as well.
· When the news broke about Ang Lee’s selection of Suraj Sharma for the leading role in “Life of Pi”, it was reported by the BBC, Washington Times, The Times of India, Bollywood Hungama News Network, TamilWire Forum, and the EuroInvestor (U.K.), to name just a few of the publications.
· Suraj Sharma made his acting debut in the company of veteran actors Gerard Depardieu (the Frenchman-Chef), Adil Hussain (Pi’s father), Irrfan Khan (the elderly or adult Pi), and Tabu (Pi’s mother). In addition, Tobey Maguire (of Spider-Man fame) played a small role as a journalist who interviews the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) about his experience.
The film “Life of Pi” was a commercial success and won several awards. Sharma’s performance received many positive reviews. In fact, he was nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star Award (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).
Suraj Sharma has continued his acting career playing parts in both Indian and American movies and television shows. His latest endeavor is a TV series called “Little America” which was released January 2020.
Have you seen the movie “Life of Pi”?
Have you followed Suraj Sharma’s acting career?