Life Of Pi Comes Alive Again
The stage adaptation of Canadian author Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi shines a spotlight on messages of faith, perseverance and immigration, and brings South Asian talent centrestage in New York City’s iconic Broadway, the team behind the production said.
Renowned playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s stage adaptation of the story of 16-year-old Indian boy Pi (Piscine) Patel stranded in the ocean on a lifeboat with a Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker opened at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on March 30.
It brings together an ensemble cast of global actors as well as award-winning puppeteers who bring to life the book’s other main characters — the tiger, hyena, zebra and orangutan — to life on stage.
Chakrabarti said for anyone who has read the book or seen the Ang Lee-directed film, the stage adaptation will be a “totally surprising” experience.
“Because it’s a different kind of experience (compared) to a personal reading of a novel or sitting in a cinema. This requires the audience to be engaged and in the room and discovering the story with us,” Chakrabarti told PTI.
She described the journey of bringing the book to life on stage as ‘long’ and ‘thrilling’ and said she hopes the audiences “travel with us and have an emotional experience that ends in hope.”
Sri Lankan actor Hiran Abeysekera plays the title role of Pi in the Broadway adaptation, Indian-born actor Mahira Kakkar reprises the role of Pi’s mother while Rajesh Bose makes his Broadway debut and plays Pi’s father.
Abeysekera has won the Olivier Award, Britain’s most prestigious stage honours, for his performance in Life of Pi in the West End production of the play.
With the Broadway adaptation bringing together actors from the Asian and South Asian regions on centre stage in New York, Chakrabarti said she “loves” the message this conveys.
“Because we’re here, we’re always here, not necessarily recognised or celebrated. I hope this is a change. The world is changing fast. This is a universal story for everybody but in terms of representation, it is thrilling,” she said.
Director Max Webster said the show promises to be a “wonderful entertainment” with humour, emotion and surprise and at the same time ‘asks really important questions about life, love, faith and family and immigration and how we hold on to meaning in our lives.’
“The world has been through some really, really big challenges, especially the last few years. It’s hard to hold on to that sense of faith, purpose and belief. I really hope what we’re all trying to do is offer a sense of wonder or a sense of re-enchantment and the possibility of being alive,” Webster said.
Kakkar, who acted in the television miniseries A Suitable Boy directed by Mira Nair and based on novelist Vikram Seth’s eponymous novel, said that audiences from all over the world come to see Broadway.
With Life of Pi bringing together South Asian actors ‘front and centre’ on Broadway, Kakkar said this ‘centres the human experience and it makes us all connect with each other at a human level’ and implores everyone to “try and understand where someone else is coming from regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, age.”
Sathya Sridharan, who plays the role of Pi’s Mamaji (uncle) in the play, said that as the world comes out of a very dark time: “This play offers light and upliftment and is a testament to the human spirit of perseverance.”
With the story of Pi beginning in Pondicherry in southern India, the play also shines a spotlight on the region’s culture.
On the significance of South Asian representation on Broadway through the production, Sridharan said: “We’re able to pay homage to our parents and generations that came before them.”
“There are so many South Asian actors. This is a testament to anybody that says, ‘We couldn’t find the right person’. We’re here. We’re right here. We are waiting. And we’re not going to wait anymore,” Sridharan said.
The novel’s other main character Richard Parker, as well as the other animals, has been brought alive on stage through award-winning puppeteers.
Life of Pi played at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End where it won five Olivier Awards including Best New Play, Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design.
Prior to the Broadway engagement, Life of Pi made its North American premiere at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University.
The novel Life of Pi, written by Martel, was published in 2001 and won the coveted Booker Prize in 2002.
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