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Fox bags Night for film on Pi

Last year’s Booker Prize-winner Life of Pi, about a young Indian boy adrift on the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orang-utan, is to be made into a film.

20th Century Fox, which has just promoted Bend It Like Beckham into a £21-million US hit, is currently favouring seafaring tales.

Massive hype is expected for the imminent release of the £87-million blockbuster Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe. Whether executives will spend as much on Canadian writer Yann Martel’s acclaimed Life of Pi remains to be seen.

Fox, anxious to get the production right, is securing Hollywood’s current young “hotshot” Indian movie-maker, M. Night Shyamalan, to adapt, direct and produce the picture. By coincidence, Shyamalan, 33, was born in Pondicherry where Pi Patel, the story’s hero, hails from.

In the book, Pi’s family flees an unstable India, where his father runs a zoo, aboard a Canada-bound cargo ship. Pi is shipwrecked and drifts in, or attached to, a lifeboat for 227 days.

The director, son of two doctors who came to the US to raise him in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, came out of almost nowhere with The Sixth Sense, a supernatural thriller starring Bruce Willis. The film was 1999’s second biggest money-maker. He turned down an Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford, as well as an offer to direct the third Harry Potter film, so that he could make Signs with Mel Gibson about a family that discovers crop circles on their farm.

Elizabeth Gabler, the Fox executive in charge of the Life of Pi project, said: “The material is very challenging and Night is a filmmaker who is always looking for new challenges.

“There are also some similarities to Pi Patel and Night. Pi is an immigrant child who left his homeland and found his way to a new country, and Night was also a boy who left India to find his way to this country.”

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