I had problem s with both the films I saw recently, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Life of Pi, and God seem sto be the culprit in both the cases. Of course with the former it was problem hi problem with no mitigating pleasures. But thanks to a few rankling elements, Life of Pi wasn’t a completely satisfying experience either.
Right away let me state that Life Of Pi is an awesome technical as well as storytelling achievement. The use of 3-D to create mesmerizing visuals and the use of computer graphics animation to create Richard Parker , the royal Bengal tiger is an unparalleled achievement in contemporary cinema. The droll characters of Pi’s family, the charming ambience of Puducherry, the sheer narrative bombast of a zoo being transported across the seas and the sinewy story telling involving a boy and tiger adrift mid-sea is a far too a sumptuous offering not to satisfy any film lover’s appetite
And then you go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like ” You must believe in God because…”
Because it’s the better story.
Now that raises a lot of problem.
First, it is debatable. One could always find the story with the cook, the mother and the sailor. And it is grossly unfair not to show the other story , while presenting the preferred story in all its lovely detail, and ask us make the call.
Secondly, just asking someone to believe in God because it is the better story is as good as saying you need not believe God if you are looking for the truth. I mean I am a non-believer, but I find Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s story very moving because he said , ‘ Yes. I can see Goddess Kali as clearly and as surely as I see you.’
Thirdly, the case that one should believe in God because it is better story could have been made with any two contrasting stories, why this one? It would have made artistic sense only of the story somehow encapsulated the eternal question that Man faces. Then one could say bringing God into the picture answers the eternal questions so well., so elegantly, so beautifully, so satisfyingly. None of that happens here.
I mean this is no The Seventh Seal.
Fourthly, the God angle takes away from the impact of the main story which was so powerfully, so lovingly staged. There were many strands there the film could latch on to stage a climax. Richard Parker turning away without saying goodbye was one of them, especially it echoed so lyrically with Pi’s own regret at not having said a proper goodbye to Anandi. It could bea bout whether an animal could love a human , or is it just you seeing the reflection of your own love? Is it true of any love? Love of one human being for another? Love of a human being for God?
Perhaps to win a Booker, a book must appear to be very clever and all that, but does good powerful story need the crutch of an allegory and an appendage of asking some big questions explicitly? The Castaway did not need it. The Old Man and The Sea did not need I, and Hemingway won a Nobel. And it was just the story of an old man and a fish!
And then there is the business of carnivorous island? How does that fit with the tone of the rest of the film? I mean it just demolishes all the wonder we have been feeling about the extraordinary journey this young boy had on the sea with this tiger. The zoo animals being transported on a ship and being torn asunder in a thunderstorm was fantastic..but it was all framed in the coordinates of the real. I know. It’s magic realism and all that.
But isn’t realism so much more magical at times?
Old Man and the Sea anyone?
( And as to how God brought down Jab Tak Hai Jaan, that was already falling to pieces, actually there are far too many gods involved there, from Adi Chopra to SRK to Rahman Sir to Sir Jesus … so may be when I have lot more time to kill.)