x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Life of Pi star thrills fans at Dubai film festival

Suraj Sharma, the Indian teen plucked from obscurity for his role in the Life of Pi, attracted the biggest cheer of the evening on the red carpet.

Suraj Sharma, the 17-year-old lead actor of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, on the red carpet at the Dubai International Film Festival.
Suraj Sharma, the 17-year-old lead actor of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, on the red carpet at the Dubai International Film Festival.

DUBAI // The ninth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival opened its doors last night at the Madinat Arena with all the fanfare expected from the region’s biggest film festival.

While the red-carpet mayhem was not as wild as last year – when Tom Cruise attended the world premiere of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – the opening film this time around, Ang Lee’s 3D adaptation of the best-selling book Life of Pi, proved a hit.

The biggest cheer of the night was for 19-year-old Suraj Sharma, the Indian actor plucked from obscurity to star as the title character, who becomes lost at sea with a 200-kilogram Bengal tiger. Rumours that the tiger might make an appearance failed to materialise.

“I feel really privileged to be here,” said Sharma, who spent several months filming in a giant wave tank built in a disused airport in Lee’s native Taiwan.

But the actor – who returned to education in Delhi after filming – pushed aside any concerns he may have had about the pressure of his role. “Under Ang, I was always sure everything would be OK.”

Adil Hussein, who plays Sharma’s father in the film, was also in awe of Lee’s achievement, and with much of the film – especially its famous tiger – created using CGI, claims he was blown away when he saw the finished product.

“My jaw was literally hanging open when I watched the first 10-minute clip,” said the actor, who leaves Dubai for a shoot in India tomorrow. “My co-actress had to push it closed. How do you do that? Only Ang can do it.”

Life of Pi is the first 3D film to open DIFF and the festival’s artistic director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali, said it was not a difficult choice.

“It’s the first time, for me at least, to see a 3D film from an artistic point of view. This is the beauty of this film. You have 3D in the context of the story, not just in the special effects,” he said.

But while Life of Pi – which goes on general release next Thursday – drew much of the attention last night, the red carpet was bustling with famous faces from international and regional cinema.

“I haven’t been here before but I’m thrilled people here have seen my films,” said Michael Apted, the British director of The World Is Not Enough.

He picked up DIFF’s annual lifetime achievement award last night, which was also presented to the Egyptian actor Mahmoud Abdel Aziz.

Other high-profile guests on the red carpet included Cate Blanchett and Freida Pinto.

The former – who stars in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, released on Thursday – heads up the jury for the IWC Shauffhausen Filmmaker Award. This evening US$100,000 (Dh367,300) will be presented to one of four GCC film projects. Pinto – who first attended DIFF to promote Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 – is on the jury for the short films competition.

The festival runs until Sunday, with 161 films – including 52 world premieres – on the schedule.

There will also be talks, workshops and industry panels.

Other highlights include the regional premiere of Wadjda, the first film to be fully shot in Saudi Arabia. It will be given a red carpet screening on Wednesday.

There is also an Arab Feature section that is the biggest yet.

aritman@thenational.ae