As the legendary actor Irrfan Khan breathed his last a little over a week ago, we recount some of his extraordinary roles in the world of cinema; one of them being Life of Pi. Mustering immense success in box offices worldwide and collecting multiple Academy Awards, this movie remains a memorable one to this day. It is based on a 2001 novel by Yann Martel of the same name.
The movie revolves around a boy named after a French swimming pool, Piscine Molitor Patel. In secondary school, he adopts the name “Pi” of the Greek alphabet. An adult Pi Patel recounts his life story to a Canadian writer.
As a child, his conservative Hindu family owned a zoo that allowed him to develop a soft spot for the animals, including a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. Once, when he got dangerously close to the tiger, as punishment, his father forced him to watch the bestiality of the tiger preying on a goat. Growing up, he embraced Christianity and then Islam and then all three religions as he explained he only wanted to love God. While his mother allowed him to be liberal with his views, his father tried to secularise him.
When Pi was 16, his father declared they were to move to Canada and sell all the animals and settle there. But on the sea, his family drowns in a shipwreck over Mariana Trench while he is thrown into a lifeboat by a crewman. A zebra jumps into the boat with him. Drifting off to unconsciousness, he thinks he finds a survivor, only to realise it was Richard Parker.
Struggling for life afloat and directionless in the sea, he witnesses as a hyena hiding under the tarpaulin hunts the zebra as well as an orangutan. When the hyena attacks him as well, Richard Parker kills it, only to retreat under the tarpaulin for days. Even though Pi takes cautionary steps to save himself from Richard Parker if need be, an atypical companionship blooms in the oddest of situations.
Once Pi was rescued, the insurance agents of the freighter didn’t believe his story that he narrated to them. So, he retold it replacing the animal characters with real humans, where the hyena is the brutish cook, the orangutan is a sailor and the zebra is his mother. Despite dissatisfaction with this version as well, the agents left without further investigation.
The author says he prefers the first tale to which Pi replies, “And so it goes with God.”
Life of Pi is a brilliant masterpiece directed by Ang Lee starring Irrfan Khan as it depicts an unusually versatile story of a man and a tiger without ever becoming tedious.