TRAVEL NEWS: “Life of Pi” Inspires Life in Pondicherry, India, including a Zoo

Ang Lee’s epic film  ‘Life of Pi’ bagged four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director,  and was based on a book that sold over 10 million copies worldwide.  To the movie-going audience, it was a 3D fantasy of practicality and spirituality.   To the city of Pondicherry, India, the film was a showcase of its rich and colorful history.

pondiThe movie shot between 2009 and 2010 in Pondicherry associated the venues like the more than century old government botanical garden, the beach road, a few places of worship of different hues and also the residential zones of the Tamil and French population in the union territory. “We will be able to showcase Pondicherry abroad through this film and this would enable us to bring more tourists from China and other pockets to the southern parts of India and more specifically to Pondicherry as the tourists normally visit the Buddhist circuits in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,” said Director of Pondicherry Tourism Dr A S Sivakumar.

Pondicherry – which officially changed its name to Puducherry in 2006 – was for almost 300 years a European colony, mostly of French influence.  It is sometimes referred to as “The French Riviera of the East. ”  The award winning film showcased the architecture and design of the city, as well as its multi-ethnic influences.  “Life of Pi” had such a influence on travel that Government continues to develop all the 18 locations where the India-set drama was shot in this former French colony.

One of the lead characters of the novel and the film was a Bengal tiger named “Richard Parker.”  The impact of this multi-faceted character compelled Pondicherry leaders to set up a mini zoo,  as the Hollywood film pivots around a zoo. The novel by Booker Prize winning Canadian author Yann Martel,which is set in a zoo in Pondicherry, later narrates the adventures of a young Indian boy,who survives a ship wreck and shares a life boat with a hyena,a zebra, an orangutan and the tiger. The former Congress government headed by V. Vaithilingam gave the approval for establishing a mini zoo after realizing that the Hollywood film would boost the tourism potential of the Union territory.

The forest department after receiving the nod wrote to the central zoo authority seeking its permission.“The news of the Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’ bagging a big number of awards is most thrilling and exciting,” said Director of Pondicherry Tourism Dr A S Sivakumar. He noted that a good chunk of the movie, 3D survival tale of an shipwrecked Indian boy lost in the ocean with a Bengal tiger, was shot in Pondicherry and in Munnar in Kerala.

The backdrop to many of the sequences in Life of Pi is the town’s French Quarter, originally known as Ville Blanche (white town). On wide, quiet and very un-Indian streets like Rue de la Caserne, Rue Suffren and Rue Dumas – the latter with its Notre Dame des Agnes church – glimpse a smattering of monsieurs and madams on bicycles in this historic area of slowly fading French architecture.

Outside the Travaux Publics government building, a notable backdrop in one scene, a sign reads ‘Beauty is our city. Preserving it is our duty’ in both English and French, while across the street is an Arc d’Triomphe-style, Napolean-era memorial. However, this ageing colonial quarter isn’t all mansions and cobblestones; some grand family homes have been left in ruins or converted into modern boutique hotels or restaurants, and block-pavers are busy replacing the crumbling French facade.

To read more about the filming of the film in Pondicherry, click here. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: Original World offers cultural immersion tours to Pondicherry, India and other regions of the country, including the upcoming “Essential South India” tour, which departs for 16 and 23 days tours in February & November.


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