Newfind Suraj Sharma shines in ”˜Life of Pi’

Suraj Sharma

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Director Ang Lee’s movie ”˜Life of Pi’, currently on screen in cinema halls around Australia, is making waves and so does its Indian debutant actor Suraj Sharma who is certain about pursuing a career in films, but not just as an actor. Suraj Sharma, a 19-year old St Stephens college student, outshines as he acts along with seasoned actors Irfan Khan and Tabu.

Life of Pi, Yann Martel’s best-selling Man Booker Prize-winning 2001 novel, sets a teenage hero adrift on the Pacific Ocean, trapped in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Suraj bagged the lead role among 3,000 other students. His brother was supposed to go for the auditions but he went instead and got the part.

With his dream debut in Ang Lee’s ambitious 3D film Life of Pi, the half-Marathi half-Malayali Delhi boy who is also a student of philosophy at St Stephen’s college in New Delhi is not sure whether he’d like to continue as an actor in the future.

Apparently, while working for nearly a year on the film, Suraj got a reality check.

He adds, “Everything was new. Forget filmmaking, I’d never even faced a camera before this movie happened. I realised how a story is not just a director’s baby or an actor’s monopoly. It’s a collaborative process of about 2,000 people. No wonder I ended up working hard for the first time in my life!”

Sharma faced the extra difficulty of acting opposite an imaginary co-star. The tiger, named Richard Parker, was created largely through computer-generated imagery, as were other key animal characters. Sharma watched videos of tigers, and the four real tigers on set, to become familiar with them. “By the end of it, the tiger was there without being there,” he claims.

For the shoot, Suraj travelled outside India for the first time and learned how to swim, meditate, eat raw fish and handle a boat. He picked up survival skills from consultant Steven Callahan, who endured a castaway ordeal in 1982, and even performed his own stunts.

As filming began, Suraj performed a namaskar, a ritual asking Lee to accept him as his student; during the shoot, they’d start each day by doing yoga together.

Suraj is now contemplating a future in this industry. “It’s fun getting under the skin of a character and portraying a complete stranger on screen. But honestly, I’d say I just want to be part of the story or be one of the crew who turns a dream of turn a film script into reality.”

“My life literally changed after that. I used to scrape about 50 per cent but after getting this role, I scored 94 per cent in HSC. I don’t know how that happened!” says the actor who survived on tuna and lettuce to lose weight to play Pi.

About how he manages to balance college and movie promotions, he points to his laptop.

“Attendance is important but as of now, this film is the most significant thing in my life. So, I complete my homework and other assignments while travelling,” he sums up.

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