You seem very attached to India?
Yeah, it’s a very spiritual and fascinating country. It’s also very inspiring and colourful. The people are extremely kind.
What made you choose a novel like Life Of Pi. It is so…if I may coin a word…so unfilmable?
Really? It’s a book that told a story to me. It’s fantastic material, very inspiring to me. As you say it seems unfilmable. As a filmmaker a challenge of this sort is a great motivation. Could I make it happen? I like that challenge. The hardest thing for me was, how do I take it to a conclusion? How do I examine the theme of illusion within the given range of the illusion of cinema? That was the biggest challenge for me. In trying to figure that out, I got hooked deeper and deeper into the process of making the film. It just had to happen. I had to make it happen.
Your last film Lust Caution featured Anupam Kher. Now Life Of Pi features Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain and Suraj Sharma. Do you see cinema losing its nationality?
Whatever is interesting I will do it. Right now I can speak and understand Chinese and English. In Life Of Pi there was some Hindi and Tamil which I don’t follow. But I’ll go wherever there’s a great story to tell. The specific cultural aspect can be overcome. In fact the process of getting over cultural hurdles makes filmmaking very interesting to me.
Your international career took off in a big way with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the year 2000. How did it change your life and your approach to cinema?
Crouching Tiger… was done in Chinese. I never thought it would become an international hit and that an Oscar nomination would take me to Hollywood. Before that point I made independent Chinese films. I was put into a unique situation where I didn’t have any explanations on the film’s sociological context to give to the Western world. People just watched it as something interesting and it became a cross-cultural phenomena. I had to deal with a lot of questions I really had no answer to. For two years, this went on.
Then you made your Big Fat Hollywood Movie?
Yes, Hulk. It was a very expensive movie. It was based on very popular American mainstream material. I had done mainstream Asian films. I felt awkward doing mainstream American films. But I wanted to make the film that I felt like making. Sometimes the budget is lower, sometimes higher. It all depends on what interests at any given point of time.
You have covered a wide spectrum from Jane Austen (Sense And Sensibility) to Yann Martel (Life Of Pi). Is the impossible your main motivation?
I think in the movies, anything is possible. I never went into a movie with the responsibility of making a global Hollywood movie. But with Hulk and Life Of Pi, I had to deal with that aspect. Otherwise my films are relatively low-budgeted.
Your most controversial film was Brokeback Mountain, a gay love story?
I saw it as a normal love story. A love story is a love story. I thought the short story on which it is based was incredibly romantic. Because it was about two men the prohibited element made it so romantic. I remember I cried when I read the short story. I didn’t take it up right away. I went on to make Hulk before coming back to Brokeback Mountain. It haunted me.
Did the success of Brokeback Mountain surprise you?
I thought I’d make a small movie which would just be for the art house (laughs). But it proved to be something else. I was very nervous when it hit the shopping malls. I was like, ‘Uh oh. What did I do?’ It was not just a gay love story but also a cowboy western. The two genres had never been brought together in America before. I think it was case of the right time for that kind of a movie.
Such versatility. What next?
I don’t know yet. Life Of Pi has been my most exhausting movie. Normally, when I complete a film, the next one hits me. It hasn’t happened to me yet. I don’t know what I’ll do next.
Have you watched any Bollywood movies?
Not any complete film. I see a lot of films being made. I’ve seen bits and pieces on television. They remind me of the martial arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Watch Promo: Life Of Pi