Get ready to see Indian stars Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain and Anupam Kher on the Oscars red carpet this year, as their films “Life of Pi” and “Silver Linings Playbook” made it to the 85th Academy Award nominations announced Jan. 10.
Lee’s “Life of Pi,” based on Yann Martel’s story about a shipwrecked young man who shares a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, earned an impressive 11 nominations; putting it in second place behind Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” with 12.
“Life of Pi” is up for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Direction, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Film Editing and Visual Effects.
In the Best Picture category, “Life of Pi” is up against David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” a comedy that features Anupam Kher in a pivotal role; Katheryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film on the hunt for Osama bin Laden which was shot on location in northern India; Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” Tom Hooper’s musical “Les Miserables,” Michael Haneke’s French-language “Amour,” Quentin Tarantino’s stylish civil-war story “Django Unchained,” and Benh Zeitlin’s low-budget indie surprise “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” “Lincoln” does have an Indian connection as well, as it was produced by the Anil Ambani-owned company Reliance-DreamWorks. “My (directing) category was surprising in that some of my colleagues didn’t get nominated, but I’m happy for the ones who did. I was surprised by our nomination for best song,” Lee told Variety Jan. 10. The song he is referring to is “Pi’s Lullaby,” cowritten and performed by leading Indian vocalist Bombay Jayashri which appears on Mychael Danna’s soundtrack for the film.
Lee added in his comments to Variety, “Fox took a leap of faith making this movie … People said the novel was un-filmmable, and it was very challenging but not just technically. It’s about faith and it’s hard to talk about that in movies.”
Canadian composer Mychael Danna is familiar to Indian film lovers for his stirring music for Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” and “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love” and Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated film “Water.” Danna, a longtime aficionado of Indian music, also turned to the sounds of the subcontinent for his soundtrack to “Life of Pi” — which also marks his third collaboration with Lee after “The Ice Storm” and “Ride with the Devil.” He recorded a large part of the “Pi” soundtrack in India.
“This is a big day in my life, but I didn’t expect to feel so emotional about it,” Danna told Variety (Danna did not respond to India-West’s e-mail request by press time). “I knew I’d be excited, but to get this kind of confirmation from your peers and your community means a lot,” he said. “I’m just glad the movie has been recognized. It’s courageous, original, technically brilliant and just a showpiece for everything we’re doing in film these days.”
Speaking to Film Music Magazine recently about his love for Indian music, Danna noted, “I think it’s the world view of Indian art in general — how everything is interlocked. Sensuality, high art, low art, it’s all kind of ‘mushed together’ and fair game.”
On her Web site, prolific Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri Ramnath explains the approach she took to the performance of “Pi’s Lullaby.”
“ ‘A child sleeps not because he is sleepy, but because he feels safe’ — these were the initial words of director Ang Lee, when he was explaining to me what he wanted to hear in the lullaby which opens and brings down the curtain of the ‘Life of Pi,’” she said.
“It opened up a completely new dimension of looking at music or seeking in music,” she continued. “Of course, one does know and is always awed by how music can bring alive the visual, how it adds to the depth of the visual, so we hear as we see.
“Words can fail, or words are not required, or cannot so much capture what a strain of melody can.”
On other films, she has collaborated with musicians like M.S. Vishwanathan, Ilayaraja, A.R. Rahman, Harris Jayraj and Shankar-Ehsan-Loy. Rahman tweeted, “Congrats to Bombay Jayashree. First ever Academy Award nomination for a Tamil song.”
“Life of Pi” was shot partly on location in Munnar and Puducherry and includes in its cast the well known Indian actors Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Adil Hussain, along with newcomer Suraj Sharma.
Sharma — who delivered a profound performance despite playing mostly to a special effects blue screen — was unjustly overlooked in the Oscar acting categories, but the 19-year-old Delhi native got some consolation last week when he was nominated for a BAFTA Rising Star Award Jan. 8.
India’s foreign film submission, Anurag Basu’s “Barfi!,” did not make the cut in the Foreign Language category. The films nominated this year are France’s “Amour,” “Kon-Tiki” from Norway, “No,” from Chile, “A Royal Affair” from Denmark and “War Witch” from Canada.
“Life of Pi” — which required a whole new skill set by 3D filmmakers and designers working with Lee — employed the Oscar-winning visual effects company Rhythm & Hues, which does a major part of its work in its studios in India.
Prashant Buyyala, managing director of International Operations for Rhythm & Hues, told India-West in an e-mail Jan. 14,
“In a way, the story of ‘Life of Pi’ production mirrors the story of R&H. The movie is based on an Indian story, with a Taiwanese director, written by a Canadian author, and was funded and marketed by Hollywood vision. It is a monumental production that required collaboration on a global scale.
“R&H has a presence in all of these countries too, and our artists worked together as a unified team across all these international locations to help bring this film to the big screen. This is the future of filmmaking.”
Since the success of “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won eight Oscars in 2009, Indian audiences are once again seeing a non-Indian filmmaker excel at the Academy Awards with Indian themes.
In an October interview with India-West in San Francisco, Ang Lee described the spiritual aspect of the film. “There are many ways to look at the movie, and my job is to provide chances for everybody — the faithful or the unfaithful. Atheists, everyone, can fight over it! Kids can enjoy the adventure story. Other people can enjoy the philosophical story or the metaphysical story. They can all do that.
“I don’t know if I reached there, but it certainly was the goal.”
The Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2012 will be presented Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.