Why has it taken such a long time to complete the movie?
In film there are certain unspoken rules: never work with children, never work with animals, and whatever you do, never work with water – water is just too troublesome. This film had all three. Another issue was 3D. But it’s a really interesting adventure film, and it was very enjoyable to work on. The philosophical and inspirational aspects are strong, so we had to include all of that, and for me that was a challenge. I worked with 3,000 people for four years to bring this to the screen, and now it’s finally emerging to be shared with everyone.
What drew you to the original story of Life of Pi?
I was hugely interested in the story, interested to such a degree that it made me forget my fear and overcome these challenges. The most difficult part is also the best part of the book: its discussion of what spiritual strength is, what belief is, what God is. Is it an external force or is it something inside us? Is it physical or spiritual? It’s an incisive dialectic, but it’s done in a very understandable way. As soon as I finished the book, I introduced it to my wife; my children read it, all American high schools are teaching it. We all talked about it for a long time and it’s a book we all love.
Did you change any parts of the novel?
I’ve stayed very loyal to the book, except for some of the more violent bits, which I’ve softened a little. It’s streamlined, but without cutting things. There are also some additions: the book doesn’t have a whale. The interesting things in the book are interesting because they’re not seen. I wanted to use fantastical things to represent this, not just to fascinate the audience, but also to show that the power of nature and God far surpasses human imagination.
The film is already being tipped as an Oscar contender…
It’s great to have people talking about the film in this way. So many people worked on this for so long, I hope there’s a chance of an Oscar and I hope it’s been a successful experience. I really hope it’s not an ordinary film. A film has to be universal just to have a chance of an Oscar, but it also has to be artistic enough. I think an Oscar is a good goal for this film. That was never really my intention, but it would be good for its distribution, for the people who worked on it, and also to bring its strong Eastern themes into the mainstream, because the Oscars are a very mainstream institution. The world is watching.
Life of Pi is in UAE cinemas from Thursday December 20.