A Slice of Pi

Dipti Nagpaul D'souza,Dipti Nagpaul-D’Souza,Dipti Nagpaul-D'Souza Posted: Nov 07, 2012 at 0335 hrs
I feel 40,” says Suraj Sharma, shaking his head. Coming from a 19-year-old, these are heavy words. The young actor, however, weighs each word carefully while talking about his experience of working on Life of Pi, his speech punctuated with pauses.

“Look, I know I got lucky when I was cast in the role,” says Sharma, who plays the lead character —Pi — in the film directed by Academy award-winning director Ang Lee, which is based on Yann Martel’s award-winning book. “But working on the film was a struggle; it was very intense. And don’t life experiences age you more than years do?” he quips.

A Delhi boy, Sharma was, as he says, lucky that he bagged the role of Piscine Molitor Patel, aka Pi, in the film that releases on November 23. His brother Sriharsh Sharma was originally the one who intended to audition for the role. The casting director, however, pointed out that he was too old for the role and that his 17-year-old younger brother perhaps stood a better chance even though he was competing with almost 3000 other boys.

Sharma then decided to skip school that year and forgo his Class XII board examinations, choosing instead to prepare and shoot for the film. “Both my parents are from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) and were not in favour of letting me drop a year. But Dao Yan (which means Mr Director; Lee) mailed them, explaining how this film was education in itself, although informal,” he recollects.

The “struggle” began thereafter, for he was to play a boy who survives on a boat in the Pacific Ocean for 227 days. Sharma spent three months training for the part. Apart from yoga every morning “because breathing differently can also change the way one thinks”, he learnt how to swim underwater for over a minute, row a boat, tie knots in ropes, build a raft, clean raw fish and eat it, and get used to the presence of a tiger in the vicinity. While he attributes the learnings and experience to Lee’s involvement and faith in him, the director says that the last three months of the shoot were driven by Sharma, who had, by then, embodied Pi.

Today, apart from the life experiences, much has changed for Sharma, he says. “At the superficial level, of course, with all the sudden attention I am subjected to,” he explains, adding, “But more importantly, I have learnt the joys of hard work. I used to be an average student who would score between 50-60 per cent. In my Class XII boards after I shot for the film, I got 94 per cent.”

His parents too have begun to view him as a more responsible individual. “I guess I was hopeless before. Now I am just confused,” he says.

Sharma is now in his first year at St Stephen’s College in Delhi. “I had planned to opt for economics, but I finally chose philosophy as my main subject,” he adds, explaining that the film’s subject built his interest in philosophy. Hindi is the other subject, which he chose because his “lingo and accent is very Delhi”.

While he hopes to spend the three years of college like a regular boy, Sharma is not yet willing to let go of his experience in front of the camera.

“I am trying to get all my brilliant classmates to write something that I can perform on stage. But my big aim is Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. I want to go there; I know I will,” he asserts.