Shyamalan takes to tale with fellow Pondicherry native

A correction was made to this article on Oct. 10, 2003.

M. Night Shyamalan and Fox 2000 Pictures are rowing toward a deal on survival-at-sea drama “Life of Pi,” the Man Booker prize-winning novel by Yann Martel.

Shyamalan quickly sparked to the project because the protagonist of “Life of Pi,” Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, hails from the director’s birthplace — Pondicherry, Tamil-Nadu province, in India.

“Pi” is about a deeply religious 16-year-old Indian boy en route to a new life in Canada, along with a Noah’s Ark of animals from his father’s zoo in Pondicherry when halfway to Midway Island, the freighter transporting him sinks. He survives, landing in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg and a hyena. He becomes convinced that his own survival hinges on the tiger, which he manages to tame.

Fox 2000 topper Elizabeth Gabler praised the pairing as “one of the best marriages of filmmaker and material possible” noting that Shyamalan “is used to dealing with enigmatic questions… and exploring separate realities” as well as with showing “a child in a difficult situation.”

While the framework of the deal is still being finalized, Fox is clearly hoping Shyamalan will make “Pi” his next pic after wrapping “The Village,” which is expected to unspool in theaters in August. Shyamalan is currently in rehearsals for that pic — previously titled “The Woods” — with Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Howard, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody and William Hurt.

The pact breaks Disney’s vise-grip on the helmer, whose “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs” have grossed a whopping $1.3 billion worldwide for the Mouse House.

Whether “Pi” will be Shyamalan’s immediate next pic is still unclear; he still needs to write the script, as he’s done on all the pics he’s directed since “Sixth Sense.” But what is clear is how big a priority “Life of Pi” is for Fox 2000 Pictures. Gabler acquired the project last February, and quickly attached A-list scribe Dean Georgaris to adapt the book for Fox-based producer Gil Netter.

Landing Georgaris was a bit of a coup: The scribe is on a hot streak, penning the sequel “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”, the upcoming John Woo-helmed “Paycheck” and a remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” with Denzel Washington. All are at Par, where he has a first-look producing deal with veteran exec Michael Aguilar.

Georgaris has stepped aside to make room for Shyamalan, who will be adapting the novel and helming his own script. Moreover, in an unfortunate miscommunication, Shyamalan’s arrival aboard “Pi” was announced to Georgaris in a meeting with Fox studio brass, not from the agency that represented both him and Shyamalan. As a result, Georgaris has discharged UTA, and is expected to take meetings with other agencies in the coming weeks. For now, he is repped solely by his managers at Industry Entertainment.

(Michael Fleming contributed to this report.)

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