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Pi pockets two Baftas but Pi pipped at the post

Suraj Sharma, who played Pi, arriving at Covent Gardens

London, Feb. 11: Ang Lee’s Life of Pi that was nominated for nine Baftas picked up two last night — for cinematography and special visual effects.

There was no disguising the look of disappointment on the face of the 18-year-old debutant from Delhi, Suraj Sharma, who missed out on the EE rising star award to Juno Temple, a British actress.

But the film itself, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2002 Booker Prize winning novel which many had thought incapable of being turned into a movie, received a rapturous reception from the audience every time it was mentioned at the Royal Opera House in Covent Gardens.

In a story that begins in Pondicherry, Suraj plays 16-year-old Pi(scine) Patel who journeys for 227 days across the Pacific Ocean to Canada in a lifeboat in the company of a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

“It was an unreal experience,” was Suraj’s comment on the red carpet.

Even to be nominated “was never in my wildest dreams”, he added, while an Indian lady next to him, probably his mother, beamed proudly. Suraj confirmed it was his elder brother who had gone for the casting and taken him along — “My brother has forgiven me,” he joked.

Lee, who collected the cinematography award on behalf of Claudio Miranda, thanked India “for sparking our imagination” and described 3D, which the film uses for storm sequences to devastating effect, as “the new artistic form”.

Stephen Fry, the presenter, called the film “mind blowing” and hailed “the colour, the vividness, the lushness, the extraordinary enigma, the sheer beauty and majesty of the Life of Pi — if you haven’t seen it, please do”.

The stars, the women in sheer summer “frocks and rocks”, the men mostly in black tie, walked a sopping red carpet as they braved incessant rain, sleet and finally snow.

The Baftas are meant to foreshadow the Oscars, which will be held in just two weeks on February 24 this year.

The evening began with a tribute to “100 years of British cinema” and clips from everything from Bond to Harry Potter, Cliff Richard and Chariots of Fire.

Among the notable achievements last night, British actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who seems in line for an Oscar, was named best actor for his role in Lincoln, which had started with 10 nominations.

Ben Affleck was named best director for Argo, the Iran hostage thriller that was also named best film. The musical Les Miserables won four Baftas, including best supporting actress for Anne Hathaway.

Hollywood bad boy Quentin Tarantino was able to celebrate after winning original screenplay for the western Django Unchained, a film which has attracted criticism for its liberal use of racial insults. He thanked his backers for standing by “a hot potato”.

The close link between the British film fraternity and Hollywood was reflected with the presence of several big names from America, including George Clooney (producer of Argo), Jessica Chastain (star of Zero Dark Thirty), Sarah Jessica Parker, Sally Field and Samuel L. Jackson.

India did have a presence, though sometimes it was a bit hidden.

For example, Tessa Ross, head of both Film4 and Channel 4 drama, was honoured with a Bafta for “outstanding British contribution to cinema”. She has a fine track record of picking up unlikely subjects and turning them into successful movies but her greatest success was in spotting the potential in a novel called Q&A by Vikas Swarup.

She persuaded Danny Boyle to become the director and Simon Beaufoy to adapt the novel. Shah Rukh Khan turned down the lead role, as did Gulshan Grover allegedly. The Americans turned up their noses at Slumdog Millionaire, which they suggested should skip a theatrical release and be consigned only to DVD.

However, Ross persisted with her project and the Americans admitted their earlier judgement was not entirely sound when Slumdog Millionaire swept the board with eight Oscars, including best picture and director, in 2009.

Last night, Ross received her Bafta from Boyle who called the Channel 4 film boss “a shy genius”.

The last time a film with an Indian story got eight Oscars was in 1982 for Gandhi. Last night, as Fry urged the audience “to remember those from our industry who have sadly died during the last 12 months”, the name of Jake Eberts, the Canadian who produced Gandhi, was included, along with a clip of Ben Kinsgley in his role as the Mahatma.

Third to be remembered was Ravi Shankar, the “composer”, but Yash Chopra got left out.

The latest James Bond film, Skyfall, was named outstanding British film, with director Sam Mendes possessing the elegance to thank not only Daniel Craig, who plays 007, but also “the great Ian Fleming”, who created the character of the British spy with the licence to kill.

What Mendes did not say was that the money-making franchise has clocked up 23 movies, though Fleming wrote only 11 Bond novels and two short-story collections.

“Here’s to the next 50 years,” wished Mendes.

Nominated in the same category as Skyfall was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is about elderly British folk who gather at a retirement home in India.