Feb. 25: Two crouching tigers roared at the Oscars — one a written-off actor and another an Asian filmmaker who had to scale cultural hurdles.
Ben Affleck’s Argo won the envied Best Film Oscar, making the once-ridiculed actor the comeback flavour of the season. But Argo could not keep Ang Lee’s Life of Pi from leading the share-the-wealth field. Pi bagged four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Ang Lee who signed off with a “Namaste”. It topped the chart on a night the honours were divided among a wide array of contenders.
The film, which tells of the adventures of a 16-year-old boy, Pi(scine) Patel from Pondicherry, adrift in the Pacific in a lifeboat for 227 days in the company of a tiger with the curious name Richard Parker, also won Oscars for Visual Effects, Cinematography and Music (Original Score).
May be for one take, Lee thought he was at the Kumbh Mela, for he began: “Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, Movie God.”
Turning to the film’s lead, 18-year-old Delhi boy Suraj Sharma, who got the part out of 3,000 hopefuls because his elder brother took him along to the casting session, Lee wondered: “Suraj, where are you? You’re a miracle. He’s playing the young Pi, carrying the movie.”
Taiwan-born Lee, 58, won his first Academy Award in 2006 for directing Brokeback Mountain, the story of a complex love affair between two men. His 2000 Chinese-language film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was a surprise hit with worldwide ticket sales of $213.5 million.
It wasn’t quite the eight Oscars that Slumdog Millionaire picked up in 2009 but Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning book from 2002, a novel once deemed “unfilmable”, was one ahead of both the Iran-based thriller, Argo, and the musical, Les Miserables, which tied on three. Lee also pulled past Lincoln director Steven Spielberg, who was once considered the clear frontrunner.
Lee said: “I really need to share this with all 3,000. Everybody who worked with me on Life of PiÖ. I need to thank Yann Martel for writing this incredible, inspiring book.”
He thanked a lot of people: “My Indian crew, I love you.”
Argo was named Best Picture. Affleck, who directed Argo as well as played the lead, was not nominated for Best Director, a rare occurrence at the Oscars.
America’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, who has possibly been modelling herself on Mamata Banerjee, wanted to attach herself to success and introduced the Best Picture segment in a live feed from Washington.
She was the surprise act of the evening, partnering Jack Nicholson at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Just as Mamata had ridden the Shah Rukh and KKR bandwagon, Michelle was determined not to be left out.
Accepting the award as a co-producer, Affleck was very much cast in the role of the comeback kid. Referring to his early success with the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, he said: “I never thought I would be back here....”
He added: “It doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in lifeÖ all that matters is that you’ve got to get up.”
Backstage in the winner’s enclosure, Lee said: “I have to say I screw(ed) up (a) little bit because there are six Indian names I want(ed) to mention and I couldn’t say them very fast, so I skip(ped) them. They’re Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil (Hussain), Ayush (Tandon), ...this movie really belong(s) to the world... it’s a miracle that I could make this movie.... It’s a philosophical book and an expensive movie, the worst combination.”
He spoke of the obstacles he had faced. “You can overcome cultural barriers, but you have to overcome that. You have to be more diligent. I think sometimes disadvantage can be an advantage. The reason, I come from another culture (that) actually enriches and makes me specialÖ. So I encourage a lot more Asian filmmakers to give it a try.”
Mychael Danna, who won an Oscar for Music (Original Score), said: “I share this wondrous award with our visionary captain, Mr Ang Lee.... You’ve guided a truly global cast and crew in the telling of this wondrous, beautiful story that transcends culture and race and religion. In the same spirit, musicians from around the globe came together to breathe life into this music and I hold this award on their behalf. I want to thank... most of all, my wife Aparna and our two beautiful boys, Arjun and Keshav, who remind me every day why stories like this need to be told.”
Ashok Amritraj, chairperson and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment, told The Telegraph: “There were some pleasant surprises on Sunday night. Three of the four Oscars for Pi were a surprise (other than for cinematography). For director, Steven Spielberg was certainly the favourite and Ang Lee was the outside choice, who benefited by our Academy’s short-sightedness in not nominating Ben Affleck. A very even year for the awards with no single picture dominating. Congrats to Pi and Ang, especially for winning the most number of awards.”