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A case of empathy & the Life of Pi
-Goalpara-born actor Adil Hussain on working with Ang Lee and importance of bonding

Adil Hussain

Calcutta, Nov. 27: He is neither the patriarchal father in Life of Pi or Vidya Balan’s callous husband in Ishqiya. In a voice as deep as his conviction in humanity, Goalpara-born actor Adil Hussain talked to The Telegraph about his role as Santosh Patel in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

With the film running successfully in theatres, a relaxed Hussain is now set to star in an Assamese movie, “after 22 long years”.

The film, Sringkhal, is based on a short story by author Bhabendra Nath Saikia, with actress Jaya Seal as the female lead.

For the present, however, he is basking in the perfect professional experience that the making of Life of Pi introduced him to.

He compares the character of Santosh Patel to that of himself as a father. On the one hand is the modern urban father who believes himself to be the kingpin of the family. A patriarch with deepest respect for his wife.

Hussain calls himself a “drifting father” whose son thinks his name is Papa, as he has been forced to stay away from home for long periods of time.

“However, I believe there are other ways to bring up a child. With care, freedom, friendship and love. The father should be able to earn the respect of his son,” he said, adding that he tries to spend as much time as he can with his two-and-a-half year-old child.

According to him, Ang Lee’s film could not have come at a better time. With conflict rampant around the world, as in Gaza, what the world requires is a story of hope. “Humans at present lack an ability to connect with each other, let alone other species. In Life of Pi, he is forced to connect with an untamed hostile enemy, which is almost a symbol of fear.”

Pi is driven to the brink, compelled to explore his potential. His ability to forge that bond symbolises hope for mankind, says the self-professed optimist.

On his experience during the shoot, Hussain immediately recalls the meticulous planning, professionalism and discipline, as well as the intense respect that everyone on the sets had for each other. Ang Lee’s humility and episodes of interaction with Gérard Depardieu stand out in his recollections.

“I was sitting in the resting room and there was a knock on the door. In my regular booming voice I asked them to come in and imagine my surprise when it was none other than Depardieu. He was very enthusiastic and spoke of Calcutta, Satyajit Ray and his plans to make a documentary on Ray.”

For Ang Lee, Hussain could have done the role for free.

Empathy comes naturally to him. On identifying with the character, he says, “Empathy come from deep within a place of responsiveness, with a practice of non-judgemental attitudes. I am very far from the husband in English Vinglish and Santosh Patel in Life of Pi. It is difficult to empathise with a character you don’t agree with. It is easy to identify with Jesus, not with Hitler. That is something I tell my students at NSD.”