The boy from Delhi who has played the lead in Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's novel "The Life Of Pi" was 17 when he signed the film. At 19, Suraj Sharma now feels like a different person.
"My entire life has undergone a change during these last two years. I feel different from inside. I think I've become a better human being. But I still don't now whether I can act or not," says Suraj, who feels he is more passionate about filmmaking than acting.
"The past year has changed me completely. I think I kinda grew up. I've learnt a billion things. It might sound melodramatic. But it's the truth. The most important thing I learnt is patience and endurance.
"Initially when we started preparing for the film, I used to grumble about all the intense physical training I had to go through. Then one day I went up to my instructor who had also become my very good friend and said: 'I know what you were trying to teach me. Most things are possible if you stop thinking whether you can succeed or not.Stop pressurising yourself. Just do what you have to do.'"
Suraj still looks back on the experience of shooting a script that features exotic animals and even more exotic actors like Irrfan, Tabu and Adil Husain with wonderment.
"I just followed them blindly. I was the only one in the cast and crew with no experience. Everybody around was knowledgable. Honestly, all I did was to listen to them. What else could I do? When you don't know what you're doing you might as well listen to those who do."
In September at the New York Film Festival, Suraj saw himself on screen for the first time. "It was the first time I saw the film in any other colour except blue. When we were shooting the whole film was being done in the blue colour.
"When I walked into the theatre, I thought: 'Oh my God, finally I'll be exposed. 'Kafi' awkward 'hoga' seeing myself for the first time. I had no experience in acting when I was signed. So I was naturally nervous. But when I saw the film, I suddenly saw all these vibrant colours and these stunning visuals.
Suraj thinks acting is no big deal. "Given the right circumstances, anyone can act. It's just about feeling the right emotions on cue. I think I'm okay in the film.
Folklore has it that Suraj was chosen out of 3,000 candidates for the role of protagonist Pi Patel.
Suraj is nonchalant. "'Mere ko pataa tha'. I had heard about that. In Delhi, I had just gone to the audition as moral support to my brother who's an actor. I was just sitting around in the couch.
"Dilip Shankar, who's my brother's acting teacher advised me to give it a shot. I guess I just got lucky. I was finally told I had to go to Mumbai to meet Ang. Then I did my audition and I thought I had flunked.
"'Main apne lines bhool gaya, ha ha!'. I was pretty nervous. I thought Ang would kick me out then and there. Then I did the scene again. And I started crying. Yeah, I teared up during the scene. And I guess they liked it."
Thereafter Suraj was called to Taiwan for training before the shooting. After being signed, he read the novel.
"Initially I didn't know what I was auditioning for. But the minute I found out what it was for I read up the novel, not once but thrice... By then the script had arrived. So I turned to the script for a clearer interpretation."
Suraj says his equation with his family and friends remains unchanged. "Everyone around me is excited about the film. It's reassuring to come back to my normal life and to know they're still there for me, still the same. I try not to project myself as being someone different from what I was before I went into this film."
Because of the shooting, Suraj's studies got affected. "But in a strangely positive way. I finished shooting came back and did my Class 12 all over again. Before the movie I was a 50 percenter. Now after I came back from the shooting I scored 90 percent. The movie taught me to concentrate and work hard."
So a career in the movies? Suraj is unsure. "Let's see what comes my way. But I do know I want to be a filmmaker. I want to tell stories to the world."
(Subhash K. Jha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)