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Puducherry bites into Hollywood Pi

Chennai, May 9: The Indian location chose itself, and audition is on for the Indian boy who will play Piscine Molitor Patel, the hero of Life of Pi.

Coming up with the tiger, however, will be a challenge.

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee returned a happy man from his second scouting trip to Puducherry on Friday and Saturday, satisfied with the locations he had seen in and around the former French colony. About 30 per cent of the movie, based on Yann Martel’s Booker-winning novel, will be filmed in the Union territory, about 150km from Chennai.

The action in the book begins in Pondicherry (as Puducherry was formerly known), and Lee did not want to replace the location with any other Indian town.

“Lee simply loves Pondicherry, not just its locales but also its people, and would like to see this place being portrayed at its vibrant best in the movie,” said Samir Sarkar of India Take One, which is taking care of the Indian leg of the production. The same company had collaborated with Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire.

“The chief minister assured Lee that the government would do everything to let filming go on without any hassles,” Sarkar said.

The botanical garden where the zoo was located in the novel exists even today. “However, no zoo or toy train existed in the garden. But so what, we will create one for Lee if he approaches us,” said a Chennai-based art designer.

The other Indian location where Lee is keen to shoot is the hill town of Munnar in Kerala, the holiday haunt of Pi’s family.

Since the story is about Pi’s long journey in a lifeboat with a tiger, after the ship in which his family and the zoo’s animals are being transported to Canada sinks, the real challenge would be creating the tiger along with the other animals — the hyena, zebra and orangutan — that end up in Pi’s lifeboat.

“Lee has not decided if he will use a real tiger or a computer-generated one…. The ocean part of the filming will be done around Taiwan, Lee’s home country,” Sarkar said.

Lee, who won an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, has directed the landmark Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The Puducherry government, whose tourism promotions mention Martel’s novel, is keen to exploit the international attention the movie will bring.

Puducherry has featured in French and other European films, thanks to its well-preserved French-style houses and cafes, but this is the first time a major Hollywood production will be based here.

Once the cast is finalised, Lee plans to shoot in January and February when the climate will be cooler.

Lee took up the Twentieth Century Fox project after the Puducherry-born Hollywood director, Manoj Night Shyamalan, backed out. Shyamalan had initially joined the scripting team.

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