LIFE OF PI: Teen actor wanted a free lunch – ended up getting a starring role

Published: November 16, 2012

Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel in a scene from Life of Pi. 20th Century Fox

JAKE COYLE
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The only thing more unlikely than a movie about a boy adrift on a ship with a Bengali tiger is the tale of the film’s star.

Teenager Suraj Sharma went along with his acting brother to a Delhi, India, audition of Life of Pi purely as a favour, motivated by the promise of a free meal.

“He said, ‘Come with me because I don’t want to go alone,’” Sharma recalled in an interview at Lincoln Center shortly before the film premiered at the New York Film Festival in September. “I said, ‘Fine, as long as you buy me a sandwich afterwards.’ That sandwich got me Pi.”

For a film about the wonder of faith, Sharma’s experience is one that stretches belief. Despite no prior acting experience or ambition, he managed to separate himself from 3,000 applicants and emerged through four rounds of auditions as the star in one of the most anticipated movies of the year.

For Life of Pi to work, Sharma – now 19, 17 when filming started – had to succeed. And many think the film, to be released next week, not only works, but is a legitimate Oscar contender, a 3-D magic act from director Ang Lee that translates Yann Martel’s 2001 bestseller into a colourful cinematic language.

In it, Sharma plays Pi Patel, who, as a child, precociously combines Christianity, Buddhism and Islam into his own blend of religion. When his family is uprooted to Canada, the ship taking Pi, his family and many zoo animals, sinks in a storm, leaving Pi alone and clinging to life in a raft boat.

Making the film meant working with one of the most revered directors in movies. It meant spending months shooting in India and Taiwan, where a giant water tank was built for scenes at sea. It meant learning not only how to act, but how to swim.

“I can’t put it in words,” says Sharma, a bright and earnest kid who humbly recognizes his good fortune. “It’s too much. It was emotionally and spiritually and physically exhausting. I would never be able to tell people what I went through exactly, but hopefully it will come through in some ways.”

It was a journey Sharma’s parents (both mathematicians, fittingly) had some reluctance about, as it would mean missing a year of school. Lee argued a year spent working on Life of Pi would be more rewarding than a year of school. Sharma’s mother performed a ceremony that made Lee her son’s guru – a new role for the director.

“I couldn’t even tell a joke in front of him. I had to behave,” Lee jokes. “I had to look after him. Normally when I work with actors, they move on and I move on. … I can pretty much say he started at the top – getting this kind of reception and making a movie. So I want to make sure he’s grounded and still getting his education – not only in school but in life. He should be OK if he doesn’t get crushed by what’s coming.”

“He’s a good boy,” adds Lee. “It seems like he can take it.”

In Life of Pi, there’s nowhere for a young actor to hide, either. For a long stretch of the film, Pi is alone in the skiff with only the tiger, which was digitally added. Sharma had the added pressure of acting extensively in front of a blue screen, with little to go on other than Lee’s directions.

“Honestly, I still feel like I don’t know how to act,” says Sharma. “It was just him. I was just an instrument. He has this thing – suppose you’re really nervous and stressed out and going crazy – he’ll look you in the eye in a particular manner, and no matter who it is, you just go: whoosh! He’s like a Zen master or something. He makes you so calm that you just let him mould you into whatever he wants to mould you into.”

Sharma is now in his first year at Deli University where he’s concentrating his studies on philosophy.

“I’m pretty sure I want to end up in the film industry,” he says. “I don’t know if I want to act or not, but I do want to be part of making magic.”






Featured

CIVIC ELECTIONS

A new mayor is coming to Surrey, but don’t forget about councillors

SFU prof stresses importance of electing councillors who will push for the Surrey you want AMY REID SURREY NOW SURREY — With incumbent Mayor Dianne…
Continue Reading »

img_3338

Salaam Bombay: Gluten free Indian cuisine

SAMANTHA MCLEOD THE PROVINCE  Salam Bombay: Salaam to the classiest and cleanest side of Bombay, right here in Vancouver! You know when you’re watching an Indian movie…
Continue Reading »

CBC-sexual behaviour-lawsuit

Jian Ghomeshi bails on Prince George appearance on Nov. 7

THE CANADIAN PRESS PRINCE GEORGE — Embattled former “Q” radio host Jian Ghomeshi has pulled out of a speaking engagement organized by the Prince George…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

CIVIC ELECTIONS

A new mayor is coming to Surrey, but don’t forget about councillors

SFU prof stresses importance of electing councillors who will push for the Surrey you want AMY REID SURREY NOW SURREY — With incumbent Mayor Dianne…
Continue Reading »

health check

Parents of six-year-old girl ‘horrified’ after botched vaccination exposes her to HIV

GORDON MCINTYRE VANCOUVER DESI A six-year-old girl is in danger of having contacted HIV after a routine vaccination went awry in Fort St. James earlier…
Continue Reading »

img_3338

Salaam Bombay: Gluten free Indian cuisine

SAMANTHA MCLEOD THE PROVINCE  Salam Bombay: Salaam to the classiest and cleanest side of Bombay, right here in Vancouver! You know when you’re watching an Indian movie…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

health check

Parents of six-year-old girl ‘horrified’ after botched vaccination exposes her to HIV

GORDON MCINTYRE VANCOUVER DESI A six-year-old girl is in danger of having contacted HIV after a routine vaccination went awry in Fort St. James earlier…
Continue Reading »

ghost marriage

11 held for digging women’s graves for ‘ghost marriages’

IANS/EFE Beijing – Chinese police have arrested 11 people for allegedly digging up dead women’s bodies from their graves to sell them for rituals known…
Continue Reading »

Jian Ghomeshi

‘Big Ears Teddy’ Twitter account posted Jian Ghomeshi abuse allegations six months ago

ISHMAEL N. DARO CANADA.COM In less than a week, Jian Ghomeshi has gone from one of the most well-known and beloved CBC personalities to an…
Continue Reading »

CIVIC ELECTIONS

Battleground Surrey: Which mayoral candidate can stop the carnage?

CASSIDY OLIVIER VANCOUVER DESI The streets leading to the Newton Arena are littered with debris from the previous night’s storm. Overflow from the downpour swiftly…
Continue Reading »

Smart 21 communities

Surrey named among World’s Smart21 Communities of 2015

VANCOUVER DESI SURREY, B.C. – The Intelligent Community Forum has named the City of Surrey as one of the world’s Smart21 Communities of 2015. As one…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Bollywood movie Fireflies

Fireflies: Sincerely done; good looking film

SUBHASH K. JHA IANS  Film: “Fireflies”; Cast: Rahul Khanna, Arjun Mathur, Monica Dogra, Shivani Ghai, Aadya Bedi; Writer-Director: Sabal Singh Shekhawat; Rating: *** 1/2 Things…
Continue Reading »

Ismaili musicians - Aga Khan foundation

Salim-Sulaiman show underlines Vancouver’s rising Bollywood cachet

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI With big-time Bollywood composers Salim-Sulaiman set to kick off their North American tour at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday, it…
Continue Reading »

Shah Rukh Khan

Burdwan blast: Shah Rukh Khan prays for better times for Bengal

IANS Kolkata – Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, West Bengal’s brand ambassador, Wednesday expressed his unwillingness to talk about the terror blast in Burdwan, but…
Continue Reading »