Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Pi(e) of English Vinglish

Usha  and Soundara 
The article was published in Star of Mysore on April 14,2013. 

Usha, Soundara Rajan’s better half greets me with an infectiously warm smile as she ushers me into their modest apartment in Mysore.  For the uninitiated, N.S.Soundara Rajan is Mysore’s connection to the Oscar winning movie Life of Pi. I am greeted with an equally contagious smile when the man in question enters their simple, but aesthetically done up living room. We exchange pleasantries and the conversation obviously rolls into his days on the sets of Life of Pi.

 “Ang Lee is a perfectionist. He wanted the actors to narrate their dialogues with typical accent of the particular state like how Tamilians speak English that’s the reason a person like me was hired,” tells Soundara. Our Mysore man had the task of teaching English with Tamil and Gujarati twang to the coveted star cast with the focused emphasis on perfecting their accent. The offer landed in his lap through his son’s actor friend Thilothama who had auditioned for the role of Pi’s on screen love interest. Though Thilothama didn’t get the desired role, Soundara became the Tamil accent guy for the Hollywood crew. For this septuagenarian, Life of Pi was his first tryst with films where he also doubled up as cultural coach for the crew. 
“It would be an understatement to admit that I was nervous. I was extremely nervous and highly pressurized because the expectations were high and there was no one to give directions. On the first day, I was given a file of all the dialogues which had to be spoken with Tamil and Gujarati accent. After that it was on me to deliver,” Soundara explains, flipping through the pages of the file which now equals a pride souvenir for the family. “I was the final authority in my area of work with no interference or micro management from Ang , actors or anyone else. The renowned director had complete trust in the people he had hired which made us bring our best onto the table,” he raves.  “As I look back to those moments of shooting of the film, I can only have immense admiration and respect for Ang Lee and his wonderful team that worked in this magnificent movie. The amount of focussed energy and commitment to professionalism and realism that has gone into making this epic of a movie is indeed very remarkable. I am proud to have been a crew member of Life of Pi, truly, a once-in-a-several-lifetimes opportunity,” he beams.

With Ang Lee
There is no stopping Soundara when he talks about Ang Lee, the man he is in awe of. Talking about Ang’s professionalism and perfectionism, he recalls a scene from the movie where actor Tabu is taking out colours from an old Bournvita dabba to draw rangoli designs. Ang sourced an old worn out Bournvita dabba from Pondicherry for this scene; every scene had to be closest to reality.

“How was it working with the big names in film industry?” I can’t help asking.

 “Since Ang Lee didn’t have any star like tantrums, the others in the crew too followed suit.  Ang was always the first one to arrive on the sets,” he tells recalling his sixty days at Taichung in Central Taiwan and Pondicherry where the shooting was held. Rightly said, a good leader always leads by example. For sure, Ang should be the right pick to give lessons at our management institutes. “Coaching Tabu and Adil Hussain was not a problem as both of them are versatile actors, but it was extremely challenging to coach Suraj Sharma who played the role of Pi. Here his TGI method, short for Transformation Guided Imagery, came in handy. TGI is a motivational technique where the person is made to visualize success and the final outcome of the task in hand. “I asked Suraj to imagine that he was receiving Oscar and it worked well both ways; Suraj picked up proper diction and we won four Oscars,” Soundara says gleefully. Young Ayush Tandon who plays Pi as a school going boy and a few others were also coached by him.

“Do you have any future plans for more such film projects?” I ask. “I don’t have any plans, but life does strange things so you never know,” he replies philosophically. 

 “Why don’t you pen a book about your experiences?” I prod this former Electronics & Radar Establishment (LRDE) staffer who is now a visiting faculty for Communication and negotiation skills at SP Birla institute in Bangalore, Manipal University and Bhavan’s Priyamvada Birla Institute of Management, Mysore. He evades my poser and expounds on how knowledge of English can change the employability of our youth. Why do students of 10th grade need to study Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare? He questions. They only need to communicate in English which is the key to success. English language should be taught from the usage perspective just like the mother tongue, without bothering much about grammar. In fact, teaching grammar scoops out the fun from learning a language.

 Point to ponder, but that would be another story, another day.

He lovingly calls his wife to join him for the photograph when I take out my Sony Cyber - shot from my handbag for the photo shoot.

“Why my picture, what have I done?” she laughs. 

“You were my unflinching support throughout the journey. Can a man be successful without the support of his wife? ” he asks.

Well, I couldn't agree more.

Some facts from Life of Pi (Source: The making of Life of Pi by Jean Christophe Castelli )
·    Almost 86 percent of the scenes featuring Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger were shot using a computer-generated tiger.
·     Most of the time, what you thought was the vast sea was not actually a sea but an enormous pool- 246 ft long by 98 ft wide by 10 ft deep- holding about  1,860,000 gallons of water . The waves were generated by a system of blowers stored inside a row of twelve boxes- “caissons,” in tank talk – that had a cumulative 2000 horsepower.
·    The entire ‘sea’ shooting was done indoors in Taichung. Imagine your own indoor sea.
·    The post production period of the mega movie was one and a half years
·     The total budget of the movie was $ 120 million.

1 comment: said...

very good interview, do write more often